Soccer has been growing in the Eastern Panhandle since the inception of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) in the early 1980s. The six area high schools have competitive state level teams vying for a title seemingly every year; Shepherd University has Men’s and Women’s DII programs in the Mountain East Conference—and Jefferson County Parks and Recreation is set to launch its new sport complex on Hite Road in Leetown, which will offer incredible facilities for not only soccer, but many other activities.
Like any robust soccer region in the world, the foundation is laid in youth play and training. The Eastern Panhandle is no exception. We are fortunate to have three successful leagues in our area—each operating independently and offering unique opportunities for kids of all ages and skill levels.
As soccer gains momentum across the country, here at home the game continues to grow and produce great players, coaches, and excitement for all. The following is a brief description of our area leagues:
Founded in 1994, EPIC prides itself on being the premier sanctioned youth travel organization in the Panhandle, and sponsors competition opportunities not available in the local recreational leagues. Coaches are USSF/NSCAA licensed. Doug Humphreys, an EPIC Coach, says, “We are very fortunate to compete in the leagues of Maryland and Northern Virginia, and take pride in our over twenty-five West Virginia State Championships. We’re also currently working to expand our academies (camps) and coaching.”
Tri-County Soccer Club (TCSC) began in 1997 with the hopes of combining soccer clubs up the I-81 corridor. TCSC has grown to over 20 travel teams with over 250 young players that compete in numerous leagues. Half of the games are home matches in Martinsburg, and away games are played in Frederick (MD), Winchester (VA), and D.C. TCSC offers free academies for kids ages 4–7. Coach and Organizer Bobby Brown describes one of the annual highlights for TCSC: “We host our own tournament every year called the Mountaineer Cup—at the Dupont Soccer Complex in June. These are two one-day tournaments, the first day being rec-level and the second comprising a more competitive event.”
An all-volunteer, non-profit organization with over 600,000 kids playing soccer worldwide, our local AYSO is commissioned by Matt Byers, and recently received a Platinum rating for a successful program that follows in the national mold and philosophies. Established here in Jefferson County in 1981, AYSO is open to all children ages 4-19. Games and practices are held at Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown, and on Jefferson Avenue in Charles Town. The focus is on “everyone plays.” Participants are also eligible for the annual Antietam Cup—held in Hagerstown every June.
— Eric Wright is a regular contributor to The Observer. Look for upcoming articles by Eric in print and here online. (Pictured above: The EPIC Nitro U-10 Boys.)