“It was always my dream since I was little,” said 8-year-old Mariacela Grajeda of Veguita. “I’ve been wanting to play soccer my whole life and my dream came true.”
The wait is finally over. That “dream” for Mariacela became reality with the formation of fall youth soccer leagues in Valencia County.
Mariacela’s comment must reassure and warm the hearts of those behind the leagues in Belen and Los Lunas who sought to fill the soccer void left with the departure of AYSO.
George Martinez, of Los Lunas, was lined up along the sideline at Eagle Park watching his grandson play in the Belen Youth Recreation Soccer League.
“I love it,” Martinez said. “They can learn a lot and they enjoy it, and I think the parents enjoy it more.”
Belen’s Brenda Chavez echoed those sentiments as she watched her son run up and down the field.
“It’s really fun for him and for us as well — keeps us busy as a family,” she said.
The action at Eagle Park was reminiscent of a kid’s sports movie. There were plenty of orange slices, cheers of “go, go,” and “bumble bee” soccer with players swarming after the ball.
“It’s pretty fun,” is how Brandon Gabaldon described his first experience playing soccer. “Just working together as a team, trying to win.”
A short drive away, a similar scene was played out on the first day of the Los Lunas Youth Soccer League fall schedule.
At the Los Lunas Sports Complex, parents were exhorting their kids with plenty of shouts of “Kick the ball, kick the ball,” and “Go the other way, the other way.”
Parent and fill-in coach Avila Dear, of Bosque Farms, a former standout defender at Los Lunas High School and CSU-Pueblo, highlighted the recent dip in youth soccer options and hopes the leagues will generate enthusiasm among kids and parents.
“It will be exciting to see more involvement to get this a growing sport again in Valencia County,” Dear noted.
Asher Storms, 7, was among the kids taking the field.
“I like kicking the ball, playing hard and having fun,” Storms said.
The Los Lunas league will continue on Saturday’s through Oct. 29, while the Belen league concluded its season on Sept. 24.
Sean Ammons, sports and recreation coordinator for the city of Belen called it a “total success,” with many parents expressing their gratitude. He called the future of soccer in Valencia County exciting, so much so that Belen is going to add a spring session in April and will consider adding an adult league at some point.
“I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger as time goes,” George Martinez said. “We need it over here for these young kids. Keep them occupied.”
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.