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More getting their kicks on soccer fields

Last year 378 boys and girls participated in the Central Pasco United Soccer Association _ a record turnout.

Now it seems everyone is getting his kicks in Land O'Lakes. The 570 young athletes who signed up for the 1994-95 season obliterated a short-lived mark.

This past week, the five soccer pitches at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex off Collier Parkway as well as the practice facility across from Pine View Middle School were filled with youngsters ages 4-19, gearing up for the Nov. 12 season openers.

"We're on the edge of an explosion here," former association president Frank Barthel said, adding that registration figures were in the 300-350 range during his tenure (1989-92) as the league's leader. "They've got so many under-8 teams that they'll start playing at 8 a.m. (on Saturdays) and play the last game at 6 p.m."

The under-8 division has 14 teams, the most ever in any association age bracket.

The league includes 43 recreational teams and five competitive clubs this year. All five competitive teams _ boys under 9, under 10 and under 13 and girls under 14 and under 19 _ will compete in next weekend's third annual Largo Halloween Tournament.

Last fall the boys under-9 team from Land O'Lakes captured its division by going 3-0-1 in the tournament, including two wins over heavily favored Seminole.

Entering his second season as league president, Bruce Martin attributes the growth partly to the World Cup. An eight-week summer session, clinics for coaches and referees and aggressive leadership also contributed to the league's increased popularity.

"The league is not only getting bigger, it's getting better," said Martin. In his fourth year with the association, he also serves as head coach for an under-8 team and assistant coach for the under-10 competitive squad.

"I'm seeing improvement everywhere," he said. "We've worked hard. The coaches now know what to teach the kids instead of just telling what direction to kick the ball."

The Central Pasco United Soccer Association, founded in 1976, organized its first-ever summer league this past July and August. Teams played six to a side rather than the traditional 11, a format that promoted greater involvement and faster action on a smaller playing field.

"Everybody got to touch the ball a lot. We did it for fun," Martin said.

Anticipating 80 to 100 players for the abbreviated summer sessions, Martin said that once registration reached 250, "we literally couldn't take anymore."

Another indicator of the sport's growth in Land O'Lakes came last winter during Christmas break, when several Sun Bowl invitational games were played at the recreation complex. The amateur soccer tournament is played annually throughout Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. It marked the first time Land O'Lakes ever hosted soccer games for that international event.

The association draws players from Land O'Lakes, Lutz, Odessa, Quail Hollow and Wesley Chapel.

Because of the unexpected number of sign-ups this year, there will be no more registration for the 1994-95 season. The next sign-up will be in late spring for the summer season. For information, call the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex at 929-1220.