For the second straight spring season, the Riverside Area Youth Soccer League (RAYSL) has set an enrollment record. Spring 2016 enrollment in the U10 – U19 (Travel) age groups totaled 158 players, up from 144 in 2015, 117 in 2014 and 105 in 2013. RAYSL also saw their U6 & U8 registrations grow to 104 players this season, representing a five-year high. 158 travel players and 262 players overall both represent 10-year highs for the program.
“The best part about this season’s enrollment is that a record in one age group isn’t coming at the expense of another,” club secretary Tina Lechner said. “We’re seeing 10-year highs in 4 age groups without a significant fall in any single group,” she continued. “It’s nice to see so many new faces at the park.”
According to a recent survey of teams in PA West District 3 – Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties – RAYSL is the lowest-cost program in the district in overall cost to join. “As a board, we balance two key concepts when planning new initiatives: player development and cost,” Janine Hindman, RAYSL treasurer, said. Those new initiatives are paid for by new fundraisers put on by RAYSL’s Board. “We’ve added a charity dinner in the spring and a raffle for meat and a chest freezer in the fall – both have been extremely successful. We work very hard to ensure that we don’t have mandatory fundraisers for our families,” Hindman said.
Other initiatives include a focus on player recognition, including a “Player of the Week” award, and season-end awards. Club Vice President Jason Fluharty works with sponsors and partners on those initiates. “Vinny’s Pizza sponsors our Player of the Week award which focuses on improvement during practice, leadership and sportsmanship,” Fluharty said. “They’re an excellent community partner for an award like this, and the players really look forward to finding out who won.” Other partners like Xara Soccer and Youth Elite Soccer both sponsor season-end awards.
“We’re always evolving the Club to give the kids more opportunities,” club president Derek Zona said. “Our partnership with Youth Elite Soccer continues to bring benefit, but now we’re adding our own training staff. We’ve expanded to include positional training, Summer Soccer and Winter Academy. This spring also marks the debut of our Panther Cubs program for 3 and 4 year olds. Parents expressed demand in activities for their little ones, so we’re working withe a NETA-certified fitness trainer to add basic instructional soccer.”
The communities that comprise the Riverside School District have been especially helpful in enabling the Club’s growth. “The Beaver County Recreation and Tourism Department has been great to work with and without their help with field improvements, we wouldn’t have a home park,” vice president Brandon Pettner said. “But we’ve also had financial help from North Sewickley and Marion Townships and Franklin Township has granted us the rights to use the fields at Blank Community Park, which is invaluable when Brush Creek floods. RAYSL is truly a community organization.”
The growth has come with operational challenges, according to Zona. “We really don’t have enough field space at Brush Creek Park for 13 teams, but as Brandon mentioned, we’re going to use Blank Park in Franklin to alleviate the crowding. We’re also in need of volunteers to help staff and operate the Club through the season in April and May.”