Bristol Parks and Recreation Youth Soccer: 1975 – 1998
In the spring of 1975, the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department held an information-gathering soccer meeting at city hall. Then Superintendent Dave Dickson, rec secretary and coordinator Theresa DiSabato, our two boys’ soccer coaches – Bill Sweet and Tom Moylan, and a handful of local soccer enthusiasts, including Tony Carrier, Henri Martin, and myself discussed the need/interest to develop a youth soccer program for our town. This grew from the knowledge that other similar sized and smaller sized towns were thriving with youth soccer success. These towns had competitive high school soccer teams. It appeared that this stemmed from the strong “feeder” youth soccer programs introducing, developing, and advancing soccer skills for young players. More importantly, there was a need to provide a “fun” soccer experience for our local children.
Later that year, the park board approved youth soccer as an after school program, and I accepted the job and challenge to organize and schedule the board’s request. Some 40 boys (although advertised as coed) formulated the initial instructional group at Wilson Park on King Street. The ages ranged from 7-12, and I had the help of people like John Corso, Mark Melingonis, Bob Kalat, Jim Moylan, Bill Skinner, Lynn Ghiglia, Vin Guarda Sr., Joe Verardi Sr., Lance Chase, Joe Tavera, and many others who would follow to make the program a solid, fun-centered activity for all participants. Eventually, leagues were formed and competitive matches were played. Age groups were divided, more girls got involved and girls’ leagues ensued. Things progressed very fast and exponentially as the numbers grew from 40 to over 800 by 1998.
In 1992, the program directorship was shared by Henri Martin and me. Henri guided the 7-11 age groups and I maintained the 12-14 ages in both boys and girl divisions. The younger groups played small-sided (6v6 or 7v7), while the older players continued 11v11 play. Henri then went one step further by initiating a new “Micro” soccer division of coed 5 and 6 year olds playing 3v3.
During these years, the park department offered a week-long summer soccer camp at Memorial Blvd and later at Rockwell Park and then at the new Bristol Soccer Club fields on Emmett Street. I directed these camps as well for many years with the help of area and guest coaches and members of the park summer staff. Soccer programs continued during holiday and seasonal school vacations at various indoor facilities.
However, the majority of the programming sponsored by the Park Dept. was in the fall season, and there grew a need to include spring teams to compete with other state communities. The Park Department, under Superintendent Dennis Malone, would not sponsor the growing endeavor that they had initiated. So, in 1992 or so, community members began their own private soccer club and were officially licensed in 1994. They developed travel soccer teams that played in both spring and fall. The Park Department continued its recreational soccer program of 800+ youth until approximately 1998.
In need of bolstering the soccer club fundraising efforts, club leaders petitioned the Park Department to acquire and conduct the fall recreational soccer program. This was granted in 1998. Currently, the Park Department still conducts their summer soccer camp week and adult indoor soccer during the winter months. Notably, some of the adult players got their first “kicks” in the Park Department fall rec program.
Roland W. Corbin