Practice is over, and what little light is left at Petrack Park is fading quickly. Most of the young soccer players have left, but two of the boys are still out there, kicking soccer balls they barely can see into a net that’s almost invisible.
That’s a sight Dusty Park enjoys.
Park, who coaches the U12 teams in the Junior Trojans Soccer Club, envisions a literal army of players of all ages who can play high-level club soccer without having to commute to Las Vegas while also preparing to make Pahrump Valley High School’s teams perennial powerhouses.
“We want to take the more advanced players to another level,” Park said after practice Monday night at Petrack Park. “We’ve really been working hard at building these teams, and building the coaches as well.”
It takes a lot of coaches to handle this many teams, and Park has plenty of help. In addition to coaching both U12 teams, assisted with the girls by Victor Vallin and with the boys by Armando Veloz, Park also coaches the U8 coed team, assisted by Kris Ferrell. Sam Mendoza coaches the U11 and U10 boys, assisted by Leeann Stringer and Brittany Wagner, respectively. Danny Coleman, assisted by Jimmy Martinez, coaches the U14 girls, while Randy Simpson handles the U14 boys. The U10 girls are coaches by Robert Stalker, assisted by Kiffany Rezendiz.
“Every year, every season, I expect that we’ll grow a little bit more, whether we’re growing a team that was already built with a little bit more competitive players or if we are building a whole new team,” Park said.
Building new teams has become routine of late, as the club has seen impressive growth this year.
“In the spring there were only three teams,” Park said. “We created a U10 girls team. Now this year we’ve added a U10 boys team, a U11 boys team and a U14 boys team. We’ve added a U8 coed team. So we’ve added teams just since this spring.”
Park said 109 kids are part of the Junior Trojans, and that’s not the total number playing soccer in Pahrump. The American Youth Soccer Association Region 808 has been operating in Pahrump since 1991.
“They should have bigger numbers than us,” Park said. “Of course, they’ve been running a lot longer than us. We definitely want to have a great relationship with AYSO.”
AYSO registration for the upcoming year has been extended through Aug. 4, when prospective players can sign up from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bob Ruud Community Center Room B.
Just because the Junior Trojans aim to be on a level of the stronger clubs in Las Vegas doesn’t mean every player is a prodigy. With the practice split up among several age groups, 7-, 8- and 9-year-old girls are near the center of Petrack Park’s Field 3, scrimmaging three-on-three on a small field.
“If you can get them to spread out and pass the ball, you’ve accomplished a lot,” Stalker, the U10 girls coach, said of his young charges. Stalker has coached them since April, and he said drilling the instinct to flock to the ball out of them isn’t easy.
“They’re young, but they’re coming along,” said Stalker, who stressed ball control and spacing during the practice. “Most of the time they have fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On other parts of the field, older players are going through drills, some three-on-two, some one-on-one, and various coaches can be heard pointing out mistakes and encouraging solid maneuvers.
What Park really wants is enough players to field teams in all age groups. And sometimes, talent wins over age, at least for a while.
“If we have an 08 team, meaning their birth year is 08, we mostly want to have 08s on that team, maybe a couple of 09s, and for that kid who’s got a little extra, maybe a 2010,” Park explained. “As they grow, that hurts them a little bit differently. When they get to 12 or 13, the younger one’s still a 10-year-old, so at that point we’ve got to build them a team that fits them better.”
Of course, a 10-year-old who has been playing with older players is probably too advanced for that, but Park sees that issue being resolved as the club grows.
“Right now we might have good teams, but I think in the future the caliber is going to get better and better and better,” he said.
If that happens, Park sees a club good enough to keep Pahrump players in Pahrump. This past spring, four Pahrump Valley High School players played for club teams in Las Vegas that won state championships.
“Our main objective is to where our club is good enough so they would never need to go to Vegas,” Park said. “That might be two, three years down the road. I think we can get there. It takes a big commitment from the players, the coaches and the parents.”
The two boys kicking soccer balls in near darkness aren’t thinking that far ahead.
“My dad signed me up for the first year, then I started liking soccer more and more,” said Kohlzin Park, 10, who said he has been playing for six years. “I just started to get the feeling that it’s going to be really nice to play soccer a lot.”
Corey Fair, 11, said signing up for soccer was his idea, and although he has played defense for five years, his favorite part of the game is “scoring goals.” Fair said he does not watch much soccer, preferring to get out and play.
That last part is music to Park’s ears. For him, quality soccer in Pahrump for every age for both genders is the dream.
“These kids here, we’re not only trying to make them into good soccer players but great little people and to have opportunities that they never had for soccer in Pahrump,” Park said. “Our thing here is to support the high school. We want to take our team to the high school level and have all of our young players play at the highest level as freshmen and then create a great dynamic for the high school to have.
“Then after the high school plays this year, we’ve created U16 and U18 teams for us. After high school’s done, they’ll come down and play with us and we’ll take them to the club level for the rest of the year. So the team next year, when they go back to high school, should see a big change.”