The Alabama Sports Festival Foundation is hosting the 37th Alabama State Games this weekend as thousands of athletes from across the state will travel to Madison County to participate in more than 100 events across 25 different sports. The soccer state games are played over the two-day weekend and there are two teams from Wetumpka participating.
Former Alabama Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) administrator Ken Sanders will be one of the coaches and is taking a girls team to participate in the 16U event. Sanders said this is the first time a girls team from Elmore County has had a chance to compete in the state games.
“I didn’t ask just anybody when I was putting this team together,” Sanders said. “Last year, they said they would love to go and I promised them I would get them there. So, we now have 14 girls that are going up. We’re excited for it.”
The team Sanders is taking is not affiliated with a local club but he said all of the girls have ties to either Wetumpka United Soccer Club or AYSO. The 14 girls on the team all attend school in Elmore County, including Wetumpka, Holtville and Elmore County.
The Wetumpka United Soccer Club will also take a team of its own to the state games. Judge Bill Lewis was crucial in creating the club and it has grown to three teams since the club was founded in January.
Lewis will be the coach for a 10U boys team. They are taking 12 players to the event and will participate in 7-on-7 games beginning Saturday.
“This is going to be their first introduction to the state games,” Lewis said. “This is a great opportunity to expose them to that tournament environment. It’s almost like the Olympics with the opening ceremonies and all of the fanfare going on so we just really want them so experience that.”
When the club first started, Lewis said others warned him his teams would not have much success against travel ball teams in the early stages. While the losses did stack up in the first games, Lewis said it helped show the players and the club how to handle the bigger stage.
“That gave us something to aspire for,” Lewis said. “We have the potential to have a strong soccer program and atmosphere here if we do things right. We want to show growth but we want a well-nurtured kind of growth.”
The state games will not be the club’s first exposure to the sport at a higher level. After a showcase in Oxford, Lewis took his team out to a Birmingham Legion FC game to show the players the game on a professional level.
While the focus will be on the experience of the event and atmosphere, Wetumpka United will also be looking to win some games while it is there. There will be gold, silver and bronze medals for each age group and the teams which medal will qualify to compete in the 2019 State Games of America held in Virginia at the end of July.
“I’ve always been a big soccer fan and we’ve got some great talent here,” Lewis said. “We’re going up there to showcase a little bit about what we’ve learned over the last four or five months. We want to give them opportunities to play at that level while staying in Wetumpka.”