STEUBENVILLE - Playing on the streets of London, a 6-year-old boy learned the game of soccer. His love for the sport would later compel him to visit Brazil and work with a professional soccer team to receive his coaching license. Soon after, he took that knowledge and talent and brought it to the Ohio Valley so he could share it with children throughout this community.
And the interest is growing.
Dr. Himanshu Desai stands on the belief that soccer is a "true team sport." That is why he decided to begin the Jefferson Kiwanis Youth Soccer Club a few years ago and is in the process of preparing for the second-annual Riverview Soccer Spectacular.
"Our second-annual tournament shows the sign of progression of soccer in our area," Desai stated, noting as of now, 20 clubs have pledged to attend the tournament, scheduled for Oct. 8-9 at the Jefferson County Air Park in Cross Creek Township.
Desai will assume the role of tournament director this year.
"This will be a celebration of soccer in the whole Ohio Valley," he added, noting all of the local clubs, which include Weirton and Wheeling in addition to the JKYSC, should receive the credit. "It isn't about us. We are just pleased we can host the tournament here in the Valley."
Desai said the aim is to have 40 clubs participate in the tournament and to have everyone enjoy the "wonderful soccer complex we have." Most of the teams will come from outside the area, ultimately leading to another benefit of the tournament - the tourism factor.
"We will be attracting people from outside the Ohio Valley, so they will be traveling here and will spend locally, too," Desai said.
Last year's initial event drew 22 teams, including teams from Canada, to the area,
During a press conference held today at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Desai unveiled the sponsors for this year's tournament.
DPS Penn will be the naming sponsor, while corporate sponsors include IBEW Local 246, Trinity Health System, the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and the Kiwanis Club of Steubenville.
DPS Penn is a land acquisition firm that has a strategic alliance with Chesapeake Energy in parts of the Marcellus shale in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, officials said.
Ed Looman of Progress Alliance introduced Desai during the press conference, saying this year's tournament will be bigger and better than before.
"This will be good for our area, too," Looman said, adding this event will "really impact our economy on a short-term basis."
"I just want to thank the community for letting me pursue my passion for soccer," Desai said. "Soccer is a fun, exciting contact sport where every player can have meaningful participation on the field. I believe now we will be able to bring the sport to the way it was meant to be played."
Desai noted the Fun Zone sponsor for 2011 is the Yes TEAM and assistance is being received from the chamber, the Steubenville Convention and Visitors Bureau and Progress Alliance.
Best Western University Inn has agreed to serve as the host hotel, Desai noted.
"We are excited about the growth of soccer in this area," Desai said. "We are working hard to make sure our 2011 event is successful and provides a showcase for youth soccer. I can't thank our sponsors enough for stepping forward to provide assistance."
Desai explained he cherishes the game because it is "a true team sport," made for any child, no matter his or her age, gender or athletic ability.
"There are all sorts of abilities and ambitions to be fulfilled when it comes to soccer," he stated. "It is a continuous sport with no timeouts, so you know when the game will start and what time it will end. The nature of soccer is to always go to the goal."
Dave Ferroni, president of JKYSC, expanded on Desai's thoughts, saying, "We want everyone to be exposed to soccer. It's a welcoming sport with very little bench time. Everyone plays as much as they can and there is no down time. The kids just sit when they need to."
Desai said he also likes to look at soccer from the viewpoint that it creates a healthy and active lifestyle, which helps decrease child obesity issues.
Both men said the club provides "slow and steady education for parents and children" in order to teach them technical and learning skills. These lessons are done through sessions and in age groups which meet approximately three or four times in order to educate about the sport.
This way, parents can go out in their backyards and play soccer with their child, Desai said.
Preparations also are under way for the upcoming registration for fall and spring sessions.
Ferroni said those eligible are children who will be 4 years old by July 31 up to those who will not turn 14 prior to July 31.
The cost is $60 for the fall session and $50 for spring, or the special price of $85 to play both seasons. Those interested may register online at jkysc.com.
The season runs Aug. 1 through June 1, 2012, for those signing up for both spring and fall.
All games and practices are held at the airport complex on 15 acres of athletic space, Desai concluded. Registration begins Sunday and runs through June 30 without incurring a late fee. Final registration, which will include a late fee, will being slated for July 10.
The arena can host up to 65-70 teams, Desai noted, saying he is really excited about providing this opportunity for area children.
The Riverview Soccer Spectacular is sanctioned by the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North through the JKYSC. The local club was formed in 1978 with a vision of bringing a youth soccer program to the area. This year, the program has about 900 participants. In addition, the club continued the Top Soccer program for handicapped athletes, operates the read and play program for the city of Steubenville and conducted an indoor program during the winter at the YMCA Wellness Center. The revamped Select Soccer program, with an educational basis designed for success at the collegiate level, is very successful, Desai said.
(Ghrist can be contacted at email@example.com.)