Every fall and spring, the fields at Cunha Intermediate School fill with young soccer players through the auspices of the American Youth Soccer Organization. Hundreds of local kids from kindergarten age through their teens play with the all-volunteer recreational organization, developing soccer skills, forming friendships and learning lessons in sportsmanship and teamwork.
This fall those fields may be empty.
On May 15, AYSO families received an email from the board letting them know that the first fall registration day was canceled and that the fall season would not proceed unless two critical board positions were filled by June 1. The two positions currently vacant are the registrar and child volunteer protection advocate.
Jena Davis, the outgoing registrar, said that she has already stayed in her position a full year longer than planned.
“I actually quit a year ago,” she said. “We had somebody to take over, so I stayed on to train her, then that person ghosted.”
When the new recruit stopped responding to calls and emails last fall, the region found itself in the middle of spring registration with no registrar. Davis agreed to step back in for one more season but says it’s time to hang up her hat. Davis has had a son playing in AYSO since 2003 and has served on the AYSO board for nine years. The youngest of her four boys will be aging out of the program soon, and Davis will be starting school herself this summer.
“I’m really not coming back,” she said. “As of June 30, I’m out.”
This isn’t the first time a soccer season has been in peril due to a volunteer shortage.
The region was in a similar position back in 2015. At that time, the regional commissioner was ready to retire and spent an extra year in the program looking for a replacement, ultimately coming up empty. The board voted to put the spring season on hold until a volunteer could be found to take on the critical leadership role.
That’s when the current regional commissioner, Charlotte Lee Smith, stepped up. Her family had moved to Half Moon Bay three years before and her kids had been playing with AYSO for a year. She says taking on the position was both an opportunity and a necessity.
“I thought this would be a nice way to get involved in the community,” she said. “But I also wanted my kids to be able to play soccer.”
Now Smith has served 3 years as regional commissioner, and her situation has changed. Her children are no longer playing soccer with AYSO. In fact, they no longer live in this hemisphere.
In January 2018, Smith’s husband and children moved to New Zealand while Smith stayed on the Coastside. It was only supposed to be for a year, then they extended the visit for six more months, then six more. Smith visits her family for several weeks every few months and is not sure whether the move will become permanent.
Trying to run the program from abroad has been challenging, to say the least. She estimates that she spends at least 10 hours a week on her AYSO volunteer duties.
Smith is looking for her own replacement to take over in spring 2020. Two other long-time board members are stepping down by the end of the fall season.
“The registrar and CVPA are critical for the fall season, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Smith.
That is not to say that AYSO does not have volunteers. It takes an army of volunteers to successfully run the program that serves hundreds of kids, from coaches and referees to team parents. The region also has a large board, with 14 active members.
The problem is finding volunteers willing to step into these leadership positions as board members retire.
“I think a key piece of it is needing people to jump in and own it,” said Smith. “If we’re constantly having to chase people and tell them what to do, that’s not really helpful.”
Smith said that people are responding to the desperate call for volunteers. A likely candidate has been found for the CVPA position. A few others have expressed interest in the registrar role, but no one has yet signed on to take ownership. The region is waiting for a commitment before moving forward with any registration events for fall.
“So many of us have been on the board for so long,” Davis said. “Our kids are aging out, and new blood needs to step up.
“We all got old,” she said. “We need to find volunteers who are like we were six years ago when we were all hot to trot.”