As the youth population grows in Hernando County, the number of options for athletic activities also seems to be growing. One outlet has come from the Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville. The church includes a gymnasium at its facility, and in the past, it has been more than willing to host community events, including Hernando Youth League basketball games.
However, Faith EPC hosts its own athletic league on the premises, too. Headed by Drew Taylor, the recreation director and head of children's ministry, one highlight is the Children's Indoor Soccer League.
"We hold summer camps here, too, so we already had the nets," Taylor said. "My job is to provide the kids in this community with an activity that they all can enjoy."
Set up for kids from first to fourth grade, the league serves two purposes. First, the kids learn the fundamentals of soccer in a small setting — a basketball court — and work with others their own age. Second, with the volunteers and proper guidance, the league is a perfect break from the grind of schoolwork.
Practices and games are Tuesday nights, and from the start, there were some stars that caught the coaches' eyes. A trio of third-graders rose above the rest on the first night of play Jan. 27.
Daniel Ambrose, Seth Halliday and Willow Battista seemingly all had standout soccer skills. Daniel's parents, Amber and David, are both very supportive of their son's talent and volunteer to coach and referee the games.
With 23 kids involved, they are split into four teams. At the beginning, kids vote to name their teams after their favorite countries, assigning names similar to the World Cup, such as Brazil, Jamaica, Italy and the Bahamas.
There have been two weeks of play so far, the first serving as a tryout for the most part, a way for the coaches to assess which child should be assigned to which team. However, players took off this week because of the FCAT testing at school.
Another big help has been the volunteering of local Hernando High students, many former and current Leopard soccer players. Hannah Spencer, Nicole Antonini, Victoria Ketchum, Mary Ketchum, Jonathan Tadlock and Brooke McKenney all serve as coaches to these budding players.
While the league is church-run, the influence of the church is not overwhelming. The league does maintain Christian values, such as sportsmanship, as well as saying a prayer before every contest. The important thing is that these young kids are surrounded by people trying to send the right message about both sports and life in general.
This year, Taylor made an effort to advertise in the community by posting fliers in the local elementary school. The results have been great, with the number of participants doubling from a year ago.
"It's a real blessing to have high school-aged kids that are willing to come out and help," Taylor said. "The (Christian) values sort of feeds into itself. We make it clear that certain things are acceptable and certain things are not. Really, it's about attitude, that we want people to maintain certain behavior.
"Sports are important, but we want everyone to realize that there are certain things more important as well."
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