The Woodhaven Soccer Club is losing to Long Island, but not in the box score.
More and more parents are choosing to enroll their children in leagues east of Queens because of an apparent lack of fields to accommodate the growing popularity of the sport.
“The Parks Department has actually told us to stop growing our sport and that we are making our own problems,” said Anthony DiCocco, president of the Woodhaven Soccer Club. “I know space is hard to come by, but I cannot turn kids away when all they want to do is play soccer.”
According to DiCocco, the number of kids who want to play soccer in Queens is growing at an incredible rate. In 2009, Woodhaven had four teams in its league; in just one year, that number climbed over 10 with the number of kids in the league kicking over 500.
“And the turnout could be even better than that,” said DiCocco, who is the lone permit holder for Southern Field, where all of the Woodhaven teams play. “Space is so limited and yet, right next door they just built a million dollar cricket field that is empty most of the year.”
The cricket field sits immediately east of Southern Field and is connected to a baseball field, a field that DiCocco said also sits unoccupied for the majority of the year.
“I’m not taking anything away from cricket players or the sport itself, but that field sits empty while we’re crowded over here,” said DiCocco. “Even if we could just use that field to practice, it would help us a lot.”
Calls to the Parks Department went unanswered as of press time.
The Woodhaven Soccer Club has a 30-year history in southern Queens and boasts teams that range in age from four to 17. With programs running in all four seasons, the club provides a physical outlet for kids all year round.
“If a kid loves soccer, there is no guarantee that he’s going to play any other sport. And if they don’t play other sports, that’s when they get into video games, sitting on the couch or into trouble,” said DiCocco. “People need to open their eyes. Soccer is growing and it is here to stay.”
Soccer’s popularity in Queens should be no surprise when the borough’s ethnic diversity is considered. The most popular sport worldwide, it is starting to outpace baseball in terms of new registrants, according to DiCocco.
And DiCocco believes that that number will climb even higher this fall when the league will see an influx of kids fresh from watching World Cup soccer.
“I’m at my max, there is literally no where to put the kids,” said DiCocco. “I have to coordinate it so that 500 kids can play with their teams on this field. “
While he wants to make clear that he is very grateful for the field he has, he thinks that the benefits of additional fields would positively impact the future of this and other soccer starved areas.
“What we want is to use soccer to further the education of these kids and get them into college,” said DiCocco. “Sports can help kids focus in school. If they can play high school soccer and use that to get into college, that’s our ultimate goal.”