Council Votes to Remove Youth Soccer Age Restriction

The Town Council voted 3-0 to amend sanctioning of the Londonderry Express Soccer Association, removing the age limit that hasn’t been a restriction for over 20 years.

Chairman Tom Dolan could not be present for the meeting and Councilor Joe Green recused himself, as he is Vice President of the Londonderry Youth Soccer Association (LYSA).

Green said he consulted with the Town Attorney and was informed he did not have to recuse himself as he didn’t stand to gain financially from the decision.

And although he didn’t think the change would affect LYSA, Green said he decided to recuse himself becuase he considered it was the appropriate thing to do.

Coaches, several parents,  and even a 6-year-old athlete who would have been personally affected by the proposed age restriction on travel soccer for children under 8 spoke out at the Town Council’s Nov. 3 meetings.

“Why do you have to be 8?” Jaya Kelly, 6, asked the Council.

The purpose of adding the age restriction limiting travel for players under 8 was intended to keep the Town’s recreation soccer league and the travel soccer club in town from “eating away at each other,” Green said, explaining that he was asked to consult with the Recreation Committee on the proposed changes because he “has been on both sides of the fence” and has children who played for LYSA and Londonderry United.

“This was never about breaking up teams,” Green said in response to arguments that the age restriction would force players desiring the travel league’s level of training to join teams from other communities. “I know you all have fun together. The intention was to try to eliminate this cross-fighting involved. When government gets involved with these things, it’s never pretty. It always gets ugly.”

“I would guess there are 28 other communities doing this that don’t have an age restriction,” said Todd Ellis, vice president of Londonderry United and the boys’ varsity soccer coach at Londonderry High School. “We’re not looking to steal registrations from LYSA, we’re looking to bring people in and develop kids that have more interest in soccer. My biggest fear is if you guys put in an age restriction, we’ll start losing kids, and if we lose them they won’t come back (when they are eligible to play on the older travel teams in Londonderry).

If the age to participate in travel soccer for town-sanctioned teams were restricted to children 8 and older, parents at the meeting argued, their children wouldn’t play for LYSA, but would look to other communities offering a higher level of training for children under 8.

“My opinion is I don’t think you need to start at such a young age,” Recreation Director Art Psaledas said. “The problem is that’s what the parents want, that’s what the kids want, and if they don’t get it here, they’ll go somewhere else to get it.”

The Town Council agreed they hoped to find some middle ground and didn’t seek to prevent children who want to play from participating, but hoped to prevent children from being forced to compete at a level they aren’t ready for.

Psaledas said in speaking with state officials, he was told “don’t confuse travel with competitive.”

“I think this comes down to a matter of choice, this is what I want to do for my child,” he said. “Some kids want to travel, some kids want to play recreation.”

Abigail Kelly of Londonderry, who has two daughters, agreed, explaining that both girls were playing on LYSA last fall.

“My youngest is 6 years old, and she’s a little shy and being on an all-girls team has been a huge help for her,” she said. “I believe this is the decision of the parents. My daughter was crying on the way over here, asking why are they telling me I’m too young to play?”

Other parents agreed they should have the opportunity to choose what level of play their child is ready for, arguing Londonderry United Soccer is not more competitive than LYSA, it simply offers more training and the chance to play games in other communities.

“There’s zero competitiveness, it’s purely fun,” said Angela Hughes of Londonderry, whose daughter plays on Londonderry United and son plays for LYSA. “My daughter loves to travel for games, and to tell her she can’t play on this team would break my heart.”

“Kids do develop differently and recreation soccer does serve a tremendous purpose for a large number of kids in the community,” Ellis said, noting when the kids are older, the boys who are playing at the varsity level are playing year-round soccer. “Kids who seriously want to develop will go out of town. We want to offer a pace in town for children in town who want to develop more seriously.”

The Council, parents, and coaches discussed the potential for both leagues to exist under one umbrella.

“I think we could be one group. Will it happen soon? I doubt it,” Londonderry United Soccer Club President Dave Kelly said, explaining the divide between the clubs was deepened when LYSA attempted to create a travel league. “There’s a place for both organizations, so it would be fortunate if we could work together.”

LYSA President Patti Maccabe said the league invited travel only because their kids played indoors in the winter.

The Council agreed to place as a condition on its approval of removing the age restriction that the Recreation Committee be proactive with both soccer leagues moving forward and wo

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