Registration for soccer in Niagara-on-the-Lake opened last week, with the NOTL Soccer Club planning for a full return to normal game activity for the first time since 2019.
“It’s pretty exciting,” new club president Carrie Plaskett says. “We’re moving forward, making this basically a normal season. We’re planning to make this look like what it looked like before all of our lives changed. And if it has to change we’ll be prepared to make modifications if needed because of our success last year.”
After a 2020 that saw soccer fields remain vacant, the game returned to NOTL in a condensed and altered version in 2021.
Before hitting the fields the club’s board of directors worked hard to plan for the return, responding to many different changes in COVID restrictions over the months before summer began. Just as they had nailed down what it would look like, restrictions changed. But as outdoor activities for kids were not only being allowed but being encouraged by the province, the club decided to offer a summer season that focused even more on skills development rather than house league competition.
More than 350 children were registered with the club, a number that was only slightly down from the usual 400-plus players. And as the modified season required more supervision on the field, Plaskett, who served in the registrar’s role last year, says parents stepped up to volunteer in droves.
As well, equipment orders were modified last summer, with each player receiving a club T-shirt and socks rather than a full uniform. That allowed the club to remain flush financially, as did the contributions from local business owners, who continued to generously support the sport through sponsorship.
“That first day when the kids were on the field was so beautiful,” Plaskett remembers. “It was so heartwarming to see the kids running around and having fun. There was a lot of pride as a board member about contributing to making the season happen. But as a parent as well, seeing how happy those kids were, it felt so good.”
Plaskett herself stepped up to take on the president’s role for 2022 when past president Ted VanderKaay’s term was up.
“Ted is such a huge asset to the club,” Plaskett says. “Knowing that he would stay as past president, to guide and mentor me in the position, that made it an easy decision. We have a great board, everybody is contributing. But we don’t have a lot of members on the board, and we do need more volunteers.”
Plaskett and her husband, Jay Buffington, moved to town from San Francisco just before the start of the 2019 soccer season. The couple was looking for a quieter, small-town location to raise their twin sons, Henry and Malcolm, now 10 years old. Though Plaskett was raised in Thornhill, her mother has been living in NOTL for a number of years, so she knew the area well.
“I wanted my kids to come to Canada, and to go to school in Canada,” she says.
They signed the boys up for soccer that summer and Plaskett liked the way the club ran the program. Last year she put her name forward as a director at large before being gently convinced to take on the registrar’s role, which she soon discovered she loved.
“I’ve always been involved in the kids’ sports”, Plaskett says. “I think it’s so important to be involved in the community. Sports are so important to me and the kids, and I wanted to contribute. It’s also important for my kids to see me in a leadership position, to see a female as a role model and leader in sports.”
Plaskett says she’s in for the long haul when it comes to her involvement with the club. She wouldn’t have taken on the president’s role if she wasn’t. And she was impressed with the way things came together for 2021.
“We were faced with all these challenges last year, and our goal was just to get these kids out onto the field in whatever way we could. Knowing that we had to start a plan early and everything could have changed at any moment, I think the board worked really well together to make that happen. We were able to keep kids safe and happy.”
At press time, about 85 kids have already been registered for age divisions from Timbits (U4/U5) up to U15, with a plan to hit the pitch the week after Victoria Day. Most house league divisions play out of the Virgil sports park, and the season wraps up the week before Labour Day. There is also a limited number of rep teams who will play in the Niagara Soccer League.
The club has not yet decided on whether or not to hold an in-person registration day at the Meridian Credit Union Arena as it has in past years.
To register and to sign up as a parent volunteer, visit notlsoccer.ca.