The Ketchum Co-Ed Soccer League is not your average fútbol club. For one thing, it’s huge—up to 10 teams this year and still growing. In a country where soccer tends to get shooed to ESPN2 or FOX Deportes in place of real "American" sports, a soccer league with 240 players (and 12 on the wait-list) is rather impressive for such a small community. “Two years ago we only had eight teams and this year we had enough to make 12,” said Director and Captain, Steve Dondero. They have almost doubled the amount of female players since 2010, as well. "That's something we are really proud of because it shows that the league is becoming less about hard-core competition and more about fun."
Yet another thing that separates this league from most—it’s all about fun. While many clubs focus on tournament-style “winners vs. losers,” this league has disregarded points in exchange for sideline beer-drinking and a relaxed atmosphere that welcomes literally everyone (well, 18 and over). Sure, there’s goal-scoring. There are the occasional red-faced players throwing a hand up and huffing about “offsides,” but at the end of the game, everyone is all smiles again—high-fiving, hugging and butt-patting (errr wait…. that’s the other football).
Without the overly-competitive edge, the game has opened up to players of all ages and skill levels—six-packed college players from Duke, Moms who never got to play in high school, men 50 and over reliving their glory days, Wood River High School seniors, quick-footed Mexicans and Peruvians, and a sprinkling of Romanians (one who played goalie for the national team). The league also welcomes any and all curious first-timers just out to socialize and learn about the game. “You develop your own circle of friends—like a little soccer community,” said Casey Mills, long-time co-ed soccer pro. “And every year you come out, you get to see the same people.” Some veterans have been playing for over nine consecutive years.
The league’s beginnings are rather mysterious, dating so far back that not even the most seasoned players can remember. “I think it started in the mid-eighties as an informal pick-up league,” said Steve. “But who knows.” Slowly, it has gained more popularity and more organization, now with official tee-shirts, a website, more field space, referees, better equipment, a non-profit LLC and league insurance. But it hasn’t lost its character—there is the end-of-the-season “Creature Feature,” a barbeque at Atkinson’s Park with brats and kegs, color-coordinated Jell-O shots (if you are lucky enough to get Jennifer Geny on your team), coolers of beer and, every once in a while, a few pairs of cutoff jean shorts (mainly Josh Stanek).
“It definitely hasn’t been easy. There are lots of cats to herd,” said Steve, in reference to how much work it has been to organize such a rapidly-growing league. But this is, as he said, his way of giving back to a community and a sport that he loves.
"This organization really lends itself to this particular community because we have a very athletic group of people, beautiful summers and a great sport," he said. "And also because it's obviously the best sport ever… They call it ‘The Beautiful Game’ for a reason." And apparently, there are a couple hundred (and growing) people in the Valley who agree.
Ketchum Co-Ed soccer is every Wednesday night between mid-June and mid-August. For more information, visit their Facebook page or website. Stop by Sturtevant's in Ketchum to pick up a sign-up sheet.
Photo Gallery courtesy Amy Taylor Photography.