STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Before Aleksey Ismaylov was a Granite Country Youth Soccer Association coach and volunteer, he was a boy in Ukraine longing to play what he then knew as the game of football. Born in 1987, four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ismaylov said life in Ukraine was difficult.
“Growing up, we were pretty poor,” he said. “Growing up, we only had one ball for our team.”
His own children — 9-year-old Ismayl and 5-year-old Aleksey, Jr. — are living a completely different experience in the Highland Lakes, where the community is celebrating four decades of a vibrant youth soccer program.
At 40 years of age, Granite Country Youth Soccer Association is one of the oldest leagues in the Capital Area Youth Soccer Association.
It’s everything that Ismaylov had wished for while growing up in Ukraine: ample green playing fields, coaches, uniforms, equipment, supportive parents, and hundreds of eager players.
“It’s everything I dreamed about as a kid,” Ismaylov said.
Granite Country, which each year fields about 550 players ages 4-19, grew out of the same kind of dedication to the game that Ismaylov had as a child on the other side of the globe. A group of local youngsters enlisted their parents to teach them how to play then went door to door in their neighborhoods recruiting other players. They even called local high schools to ask if they could pit their homegrown teams against the varsity squads.
“Me and my friends all wanted to play,” said Bill Worley Jr., son of William Worley Sr., the association’s first president.
At that time, the sport of soccer was still gaining traction in the United States, so opportunities to play in the Highland Lakes didn’t exist. William Worley had watched soccer games in Europe while he was in the military. When he learned of his son’s interest, he checked out a book on the sport from the Marble Falls library. His side gig as a soccer coach was underway. The program grew from there into the active one it is today.
Passion for the game has been a mainstay of Highland Lakes soccer ever since. As any of the young men and women involved in the local leagues will tell you, success has nothing to do with win-loss records.
Garrett Goggans, 13, has played on Granite Country teams since he was 4 years old. He developed a passion for the game and made great friends, he said.
“They developed me as a player,” Goggans said. “It helped me learn the game.”
The young man’s devotion to Granite Country soccer prompted his father, Wes Goggans, to get more involved as well. He serves on the association’s board of directors and coaches two teams: Garrett’s 14-and-under squad and 9-year-old son Graham’s 10-and-under team.
As far as Wes Goggans is concerned, the association’s importance can’t be overemphasized.
“It gives us the opportunity to have fun, competitive soccer in Marble Falls and not have to drive back and forth to Austin,” he said. “That’s really special because small towns like ours don’t have a program or aren’t even competitive.”
While most kids play for fun, some Granite Country athletes have made a career out of their love for the sport. Gustavo Lopez, who graduated from Marble Falls High School in 2007, said he knew soccer was going to be the way he made a living. He recalls sitting in then-Marble Falls coach Michael Nave’s office telling him he wanted to be a teacher and a soccer coach.
Lopez pursued his dream by playing in the local league, on school teams, and in pickup games on league fields after school. He signed to play college ball for the University of Texas Permian Basin, where he earned a degree in Spanish and a teaching certificate. Today, he’s on Nave’s staff as the junior varsity coach at Pflugerville High School, where he also teaches Spanish. He is in his fifth year of teaching and coaching, an achievement to which he credits Granite Country.
“Granite Country gave us the opportunity, especially for the kids who couldn’t afford to play club soccer,” he said. “You didn’t have many opportunities. I give them a lot of credit.”
While Lopez recalls the soccer of his youth as being easily accessible, Ismaylov’s memories center on that one ball his team had to kick around — and protect from damage or loss. As an American soccer dad, he now buys balls to give to players who can’t afford them. To Lopez, the gesture is the perfect symbol of what Granite Country soccer has meant to so many, including his family.
“I want them to keep helping the kids,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about the kids.”
HOW TO BECOME A SOCCER VOLUNTEER
The game can’t go on without the help of volunteers. Most begin as a coordinator, learning the different jobs that keep Granite Country Youth Soccer Association going. Time commitments are weekly during the fall and spring seasons.
Volunteers also are needed to serve as parent-coaches, licensed coaches, team managers, equipment and team coordinators, concession workers, and field maintenance help.
Email president Kevin Reitain at firstname.lastname@example.org or registrar Sylvia Hellen at email@example.com for more information.