They started a league of their own

RICHLAND, Wash. — Steve and Donna Colson faced a dilemma many parents of young LDS athletes often face in community leagues — Sunday play. It seemed their 16-year-old son, Brent, had two choices: play on Sundays for his soccer team or restrict himself to weekdays and Saturdays only. Brent, a talented goalie, chose the latter. And missed many tournament championships, which usually landed on Sundays,

Last year, the Colsons decided it was time to create a third choice — start a new league dedicated to no Sunday play. Now beginning its second year of play this month, the American Youth Soccer Organization, which is part of a larger national organization by the same name, hosts teams from throughout the Tri-Cities area. The new league's rules specifically declare no Sunday play.

"If we had had any idea what we were getting into, I'm not sure we would have had the courage to even start voicing our opinions so strongly," recalled Sister Colson of the Meadow Springs Ward, Kennewick Washington Stake. "Sometimes it's better to just move forward without knowing, however, than to just sit and do nothing."

Obviously, the Colsons did something. For years, Brent played for a state sponsored soccer team that won several tournaments and even took second place in state playoffs one year. On Sundays, however, he was in Church while his teammates were on the field. "It became obvious to us early on that Brent probably wouldn't excel to be an outstanding soccer player, because in our city to be a part of a winning team requires Sunday play for older youth. Because the Church encourages us to keep the Sabbath day

holy, this would definitely be a problem," Sister Colson said. "We appreciated the coach's efforts to support our decision. The coach was so anxious to have Brent play on the team that he found an additional goalie for the Sunday games."

Originally, the Colsons tried to effect changes from within the existing organization. Phone calls were made to the local, district, and regional offices, voicing resistance to the current decision to all-Sunday play. They even went to the soccer board meetings proposing a separate non-Sunday league as part of their organization. The turning point came when Brent had to step in for Sunday play during a state tournament when the other goalie sustained an injury.

After two weeks of Sunday games Brent said to his parents: "Please don't ever let me to do that again. I didn't like how I felt when I played on Sunday."

Donna and Steve Colson decided that youth soccer players, such as their son, Brent, deserved a local
Donna and Steve Colson decided that youth soccer players, such as their son, Brent, deserved a local league dedicated to no Sunday play. | Photo courtesy Colson family

The couple now decided that if changes couldn't be made from within, they would have to start their own local organization that would meet the needs of players — LDS and others of various faiths — who didn't want to play on Sunday. After contacting and receiving guidelines from national officials of the American Youth Soccer Organization, the Colsons and others first organized an 18- member supervisory board of both Church members and friends. Teams were organized by age group, encompassing ages 12 through high school. They started small. Because initially they didn't have enough girls, they organized co-ed teams.

They then expanded their contacts by phone calls, personal visits, fliers, and using the media to poll the community's interest in non-Sunday play. They were stunned by the community's acceptance of their no-Sunday play. Through the first year of play, soccer field access was donated by the Parks and Recreation Department. Local service clubs awarded scholarships for those who couldn't afford to play otherwise; high school coaches throughout the area approached them about having their players become part of the local league; the newspaper donated $2,000 worth of ads, and the schools allowed fliers to be sent home with the students with new league information.

"Behind the success that we have had lies thousands of hours of hard labor and prayer behind the scenes," Sister Colson said. "At times this soccer work has been very discouraging. Through it all, however, as long as we keep our eye on why we originally organized the non-Sunday league, we can move forward one step at a time."

One of the greatest challenges came to the board's decision of no-Sunday play when several coaches of quality teams approached the organization requesting membership and permission to play Sundays games for tournaments only. Brother Colson, as commissioner of the board, really faced a struggle. Here was a chance for major recognition and acceptance as a legitimate league in the community, if these teams were allowed to join. However, when he presented the coaches' proposal to the board, they overwhelmingly decided that they would keep to their standard of no Sunday play.

Dennis Piatek, deputy regional commissioner on the soccer board, applauds the Colsons' efforts. "Even though we have many on the league board who are not of the same faith, and some who don't have any religion, all appreciate having the Sundays off to spend quality time with their families."

One of the greatest rewards they experienced this year came from a woman of another faith who wanted her daughter to play soccer with the newly organized girls' teams. She said, "I'm so pleased that someone would stand up for the Sabbath. The world is just subtly taking Sunday away from the family, and they aren't even noticing what they are losing."

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