There’s a belief in some local neighborhoods that the Westerly-Stonington sports rivalry begins shortly after a prospective athlete leaves the crib: Brown blankets for Stonington babies and blue for Westerly.
But a newly-formed youth soccer league bucks the notion that the state border rivalry starts when they’re young.
Westerly and Stonington’s youth soccer leagues are joining forces to launch the WESTON Juniors instructional soccer program for 3- to 8-year-olds. Registration is underway for fall leagues in the new league, which follows the national SoccerPlus Player Development model.
Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic gold medal, established SoccerPlus as a youth soccer development model in 1982.
Both league presidents felt the time was right for both programs to unify to take advantage of professional coaching on both sides of the Pawcatuck River and promote the sport in general.
“I like the idea of being neighborly rather than being adversarial with Stonington,” said Marc Scanapieco, president of the Westerly Youth Soccer Association. “Our numbers in the younger divisions have decreased recently, and I’ve heard the same is true in Stonington.
“This age is a prime time to get kids interested in soccer. Strengthening two smaller programs separated by a river can only benefit more children and bring more buzz to the sport.”
WESTON’s instructional program will include professionally-coached training sessions on weekends in Westerly and Stonington and a midweek in-house league for players in Pre-K to second grade.
Mike Hallissey, president of the Stonington Soccer Club, sees a lot of similar ideas shared by both leagues.
“Usually we’re not looking to partner with Westerly for ways to improve our programs, but sharing resources makes sense,” Hallissey said. “We have a shared vision and are both non-profit groups looking to benefit children. The WESTON program is a natural progression from the SoccerPlus Juniors Recreation model that helped tutor us in recent years.”
WESTON’s focus is to introduce and develop individual technique for fledgling players. Training will center on dribbling, turning and ball manipulation, and fun drills. Recreational games will also be available.
Under 4 players will train Saturdays in Westerly. Under 5 will practice Wednesdays in Westerly and either Saturdays in Westerly or Sundays in Stonington. Under 6 and Under 7 will practice Tuesdays in Westerly and either Saturdays in Westerly or Sundays in Stonington. Under 8 will practice Wednesdays in Westerly and either Saturdays in Westerly or Sundays in Stonington. Fields and times will be announced.
There is also a SoccerPlus Juniors Academy competitive travel team option for advanced youth players ages 6 to 8. Scanapieco said WESTON’s expected success could lead to a future collaboration of competitive teams for older Westerly-Stonington players.
“SoccerPlus has given us a great handoff,” Scanapieco said. “Our involvement with them was a great opportunity to embrace younger soccer players and develop a true feeder program for more competitive levels of youth soccer.”
For more information and for registration instructions, log on to stoningtonsoccerclub.com or westerlyyouthsoccer.org.