MODESTO — Mark Vallee is executive director of the Modesto Youth Soccer Association.
Vallee has been involved with the organization for eight years, starting as a coach for a competitive traveling team. Two years ago, he became a club coordinator before taking over his current role last year.
The association, which serves roughly 3,000 children, kicked off its recreational season last month at the new Mary E. Grogan Community Park.
Vallee agreed to answer some questions about MYSA, the rewards and the challenges.
Q: League play began in August. How is the season going so far this year?
A: The recreation league has been great so far. With over 300 teams and approximately 3,000 children on MYSA-Ajax teams, there is a lot of work that has gone into the league preparation. Our staff is extremely dedicated and has put in all the hours to make sure the experience is the best possible. Of course, we have encountered a few hiccups, which we have ironed out. Overall, having all our games together has been an amazing experience, especially with the quality of fields we are now able to provide our players. It is now possible for parents to watch all their children's games without having to drive all over Modesto to accomplish that.
Q: How has MYSA changed since its inception in 1978?
A: MYSA has changed little in concept since our first days. We are an organization dedicated to providing players and families with a premier, safe and fun experience for all abilities and backgrounds through the wonderful game of soccer. What has changed are our facilities and offerings. By leasing the Mary Grogan park from the city of Modesto, we shouldered a substantial financial burden, but we believe the trade-off is worth the risk. With the new facility, we are now able to offer an adult league (currently open for registration at www.mysa-ajax.org) and we are planning to start a TOPSoccer Program for youth with disabilities. We are even in plans to offer a new youth soccer spring league this coming year.
Q: When the new Mary Grogan park opened, there were some concerns about traffic and parking. How have those been addressed?
A: Traffic and parking has been a bit rough so far, but we are appreciative of Enochs High School allowing for temporary access through their facility. Within the past weekend, the permanent entrance to the facility has opened, as with the southern entrance to Litt road. This should help dramatically with getting in and out of the park. Inside the parking lot has been pretty rough as well, since the paved 500-space lot fills up before the first game. The city of Modesto has allowed us to open up two temporary overflow areas that add several hundred additional spaces. We would love to have those transitioned to a permanent parking area, but that would require a change to the specific Phase II plan. Due to the congestion, we have added several staff members to the parking area to help with traffic flow. We're really hoping the combination of these changes makes a significant improvement on the traffic and parking.
Q: Who handles the scheduling?
A: For MYSA events, volunteers from the recreation and Ajax groups prepare schedule requests and then MYSA staff and myself review and fit it all together. For other organizations or individuals, scheduling requests are completed through the city of Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department.
Q: Have parent complaints about coaches and vice versa increased in recent years?
A: Complaints are taken very seriously and we try to investigate all serious concerns. These complaints have decreased as we have formalized some processes, but also we are providing an outlet for these issues with a parent liaison. Having this resource available for parents is really allowing for a good forum for complaints to be handled.
Q: How would you advise a parent who has a problem with a coach or another parent to handle it?
A: We always recommend the appropriate first step is to talk with the coach about the issue at hand. If the problem continues, then we recommend you contact our parent liaison (contact info is on our website). If you ever have an issue of player safety or well-being then you can always contact the parent liaison or myself right away.
Q: The recreational side of MYSA is open to children from 4 to 18. Which is the biggest age group to take part?
A: Our biggest age group is definitely the under-10 age group. This is the biggest each year, with the under-8 and under-12 ages next for enrollment.
Q: What advice would you give a parent who is unfamiliar with MYSA but thinking about signing his or her child up for the program?
A: We are a great organization that provides an opportunity for your children to play with other children while working together to achieve a common goal. Through this, they are able to get plenty of exercise and learn how to work together. MYSA strives to provide a low-pressure, high-enjoyment environment where children develop a lifelong passion for soccer. The commitment is minimal, but the reward is great.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in running an organization that serves 3,000 kids and has a budget of more than $1 million? What's the biggest reward?
A: The biggest challenge is resolving all the day-to-day challenges and still working to improve for the future. A close second is finding enough volunteers to support for the enormous amount of work that has to be completed each week to get the children out on the field. No doubt the biggest reward is seeing the joy of the children as they participate in the game we love. Smiles of joy make hours of hard work well worth it.
Q: What is something about MYSA you wish more people knew?
A: MYSA offers soccer for all ages and all abilities. We work really hard to make sure every single player has an enjoyable experience. We couldn't make this happen without the support of the community and volunteers. Our volunteers and donors need to be celebrated and we need more. With volunteer and financial support, we can continue to grow the great organization we already enjoy.