Opinion: Finding Meaning 

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AYSO Soccer in Laguna Beach 

By Skip Hellewell

The history of our town is like a patchwork quilt, each stitched piece a story. As new pieces are added, old pieces are lost from sight. Who remembers folks gathering on Saturday nights to dance to Hub Goff’s homemade one-string fiddle, as told in Joe Thurston’s history of early Laguna? It’s interesting how our quilt is largely the work of volunteers working to improve our community, which brings to mind the Pitz family’s role in bringing AYSO youth soccer to Laguna.  

Back in 1964, when AYSO was founded, football, basketball and baseball were the common American sports. Soccer, as we call it, though the most popular sport for most of the world, was generally played by immigrants. Seeking to improve youth sports, a group of Torrance parents formed what became the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). Their founding principles were egalitarian—open enrollment (all were welcome, no try-outs), assured participation (everyone, regardless of skill, played at least two quarters), and team equality (skilled players were spread evenly among teams). AYSO elevated sportsmanship above simply winning—winning still mattered. It’s human nature, but how you did it also mattered. In years since the AYSO program has spread across the country.  

In Laguna, Marcel Pitz, the Belgian-born founder of Dizz’s As Is, Laguna’s oldest restaurant with the same ownership, had to drive his kids to Mission Viejo to play organized soccer. In 1974, Pitz organized some dads, including Peter Weisbrod, who played a big role in founding AYSO in Laguna Beach. In AYSO’s early years in Laguna, the Pitz family was heavily involved as players and coaches. Bob Tucker was the first commissioner when Laguna’s AYSO Region 86 was formed. This year marks the 50th year of AYSO in Laguna, a remarkable accomplishment by this organization of volunteers.  

This is timely because the AYSO National Games are underway at Irvine’s Great Park, finishing on Sunday, and Laguna has a team competing. In years past, two Laguna teams have won National Games championships. The championships follow the AYSO principles, and team participation is by lottery, so all teams have a chance to play. The tournament begins with an opening contest where players are randomly mixed into teams and play with strangers to better become acquainted and build fellowship before returning to their own teams. This year, Laguna is represented by the 10-year-old team coached by Joe Cover.  

Under AYSO and other programs, soccer has become a leading U.S. sport. This week’s National Games coincide with the opening rounds of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where U.S. women have won four titles and four Olympic gold medals. It’s a remarkable achievement, the rise of soccer in the U.S., one that began with the work of volunteers.  

This year, Laguna’s Patriot Day Parade had the theme “Volunteer Heroes.” In fact, what seemed like a hundred different volunteer organizations—the ‘patches’ in our Laguna quilt—marched to the cheers of supporters. Together, they shape our town, and they form our patchwork quilt. On the subject of volunteers, the topic of this column was suggested by Alan Caserio. Though modest by nature, in the last twenty years, Alan has been the heart and soul behind the AYSO program in Laguna Beach. Volunteers, they’re our heroes. They shape our town. There’s meaning in that.  

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

 

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