Alex Di Pietro
The Outdoor Soccer League, offered by the Ranch Ehrlo Society, wrapped up its inaugural season on Tuesday with each participant taking home a soccer ball and the opportunity to stay active throughout the summer.
Approximately 50 children aged seven to 14 arrived at Parkland Hall shortly after 3 p.m. to collect their weekly snacks and refreshments before being divided into four teams — a routine that has been part of their lives for the past six weeks.
The cost-free league, named the OSL, ran from April 24 to June 5. While it was open to children from across the city of Prince Albert, the goal was to give youth from low-income families the chance to be active in a positive environment.
"The consistency of the youth from week to week has been very rewarding to the point that we felt maybe we should have ran two nights a week rather than one," said Kevin Mugford, director of residential services for the Ranch Ehrlo Society.
"Our long-term vision is to maybe add on a cost-free outdoor baseball league next year, so that those children (in the West Flat and Midtown areas) would have the opportunity to be on a team most of the year," Mugford added, noting that an outdoor hockey league is also offered in the winter.
Children were split up into three different age groups and played one-hour games. Members of Queen Mary Community School and the Ranch Ehrlo Society made up the coaching staff each week, with students from Wesmor Community High School acting as their assistants.
"We had an official registration, but because of such varied age groups and varied skill levels — and to some degree, sporadic attendance — we made random fun-focused teams each week, as opposed to roster teams," Mugford said.
Metis Local 269 provided funding for the soccer league, including equipment, soccer balls, snacks, nets and costs to run the facility.
"Just to see that the kids are happy makes the whole day," Metis Local 269 president Barry Robertson said. "They're happy, they've got something to do (and) they're off the street ... They're not going to be out there getting involved with gangs."
A key aspect to the soccer league is encouraging fair play, and according to Queen Mary Community School co-ordinator Tonya Kleinert, the league can potentially give children the confidence to play soccer at the city level.
"I know by talking to the kids that they're always really excited to come," she said. "I run some of these things through (the) Lakeland (District for) Sport, Culture and Recreation but not on such a big scale ... It definitely gives kids of various ages a good opportunity to play something they may not have normally played."
Ethan Cook-Sanderson, a Grade 5 student at Queen Mary Community School, said he would be out riding his bike if he weren't using the same time slot each week to play soccer.
"I get to play with my buddies all the time, and it doesn't really matter if we lose," he said.
The Ranch Ehrlo Society is a non-profit organization that provides services to improve children's lives. It has operated a centre in the rural municipality of Buckland since 1997.