Since at least 1993, youth soccer organizers in Mayo and Dawson have demanded more support from the Whitehorse-based Yukon Soccer Association.
At this weekend’s annual Dawson-Mayo tournament, Bernard Menelon restated what has been a contentious issue for the 20 years he has organized Mayo soccer.
Grassroots support for the game will only be realized when the Yukon Soccer Association sends certified instructors into the communities to train players and potential coaches.
“If you had a guy tour the communities twice a year, then you get the kids interested, the parents interested,” he said in an interview Sunday.
“If the support is there, that’s the way it develops. But if you don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen.”
Dawson Minor Soccer president Irwin Gaw echoes Menelon’s concerns.
Gaw said he has been trying to get the association to send an instructor to train players and coaches for the past four years.
“They’ve even offered to send them up, but then they never follow through, he said. “If we could get some clinics up here for skill development, that would help a lot.”
Both Gaw’s and Menelon’s frustrations have boiled over in the last decade. They say they’ve witnessed soccer mushroom in Whitehorse yet fail to keep pace in the communities.
“We’ve gotten little support from the Yukon Soccer Association outside of the Yukon Soccer championships that they put on,” said Gaw.
“They do a great job of that tournament, but that’s about all they’ve done for us.
“Under the past president, there had been a decline in community support. While they work tirelessly in Whitehorse, they have not lived up to their mandate to develop soccer in the Yukon communities.”
Gaw looks at Dawson minor hockey and sees the positive results that the association has had bringing in ex-NHLer John Chabot to work with the players and coaches during the last two winters.
“All the kids idolize him. The coaches get to watch what he does. Everybody feeds off of it.
“If you get somebody like that with soccer, it would be great, but we get brushed off.”
Menelon shakes his head when he considers past communication between Whitehorse and the communities for soccer-event organization, which is always held in the capital.
“If knew about a coaching clinic two months in advance and have Yukon Soccer pay for the room, people would come,” he said.
“That’s how you develop the sport. Now, you get a call on a Thursday: ‘Oh, we’ve got a clinic this weekend if you’d like to come. People have a life — we’d have to drop everything to go to Whitehorse.”
Better organization and communication would eventually result in better soccer in the communities, they said.
But, in reality, soccer in the communities seems to be thriving.
At last year’s Northwestel Yukon indoor soccer championships, 46 teams entered the competition from Whitehorse and 25 were from the communities, which is more than one-third of the total teams.
Haines Junction entered four teams, Teslin one.
Atlin fielded three teams, Watson Lake two and Mayo five.
Dawson entered a whopping 10 teams.
In last weekend’s tournament, close to 200 players competed from ages seven to adult.
On top of that, under Menelon’s tutelage, Mayo youth soccer has won many Yukon championships since he started the program in 1985, including a run of 10 years a row between 1986 and 1996.
“When there were more kids in Elsa, There was Mayo A versus Mayo B in the Yukon Soccer championships and Whitehorse didn’t like it at all.”
That is when the Whitehorse soccer brass began to take development of the game more seriously, said Menelon.
“They changed the rules steady. They used to always complain. There was always arguments.
“They really improved their program and brought the level of soccer up. They have good coaches now. Twenty years ago there was not much there.”
Gaw and Menelon both appreciate what has been accomplished in the big picture — getting the sport off the ground in Whitehorse, creating the new Canada Games Centre field and organizing the Yukon indoor and outdoor soccer championships every year.
“They do an excellent job of the Yukon soccer championships and that’s the highlight of our year,” said Gaw.
But they both see no reason why soccer’s development cannot continue as quickly in the communities as it does in Whitehorse.
Although Dawson’s indoor program attracts many players, the level is not strong.
Mayo’s U-16 team beat one of Dawson’s U-15 teams 25-0 on the weekend, and won each of the U-11, U-13 and U-15 divisions by wide margins.
“The kids need better development in their skills,” said Gaw.
“We’ve been running a fun program here, but as they get older, that hasn’t paid off.”
He said training the volunteer coaches — most of whom have limited experience coaching or playing soccer — would bring the level up over time.
And he wants Whitehorse to send them north because the communities pay fees into the Yukon Soccer Association for these privileges.
Whitehorse may be listening.
Two local instructors Dave White and John MacPhail, received national coaching certification last year.
They have started hosting clinics in the communities.
MacPhail is going to hold a three-day clinic in Dawson in March to train coaches and increase players’ skills.
He credits new YSA president Brian Gillen with getting more active in supporting the communities.
“It’s good to see new leadership and we are looking forward to more support in the communities. It’s hard to change the way things have been done for many years”
MacPhail said it’s “up to the communities” to get organized and bring him or White in to work with the players and coaches.
He also credited Gillen for taking an interest in soccer in the communities.
“Brian has been real good to see that the communities are well looked after.”