OTTUMWA — Soccer is more than a fun sport for the Ottumwa Soccer Club coaches and players. It’s a passion. Despite Saturday’s rain, parents, coaches and players did not want to spend the weekend without soccer.

Anthony Knott, coach for the U12 team, has been playing the game since childhood and coaching for five years.

“I’ve seen it grow, where there’s a large quantity of kids that are participating,” Knott said, “but then you have years where you are struggling with numbers. I think overall the interest level in soccer has increased due to the popularity of international men’s and women’s soccer.”

Parent Jonathan Owens said his interest in the sport grew after his daughter started playing. “I’m not a big fan of men’s soccer, but I do love watching women’s soccer,” he said. “In general, women are underpaid and I think they’re way better than the men and they’re more fun to watch. They also don’t get enough recognition.”

Knott said soccer has increased interest for another reason. “As we become more competitive in the adults’ league,” he said, “then kids become interested because they have somebody to look up to and have some kind of role model.”

Jasmine Moorehead, 12, fits the description of making a professional soccer player a role model.

“I like soccer,” she said, “I think it’s fun. I want to be a good soccer player like Alex Morgan.”

Moorehead has been playing for four years and hopes to become an international soccer player in the future. Not playing is out of the question.

“The training and practices are worth it,” she said. “I love the adrenaline of running down the fields. It gets me going, it makes me stay connected and communicative. I love making the runs and making the passes. I can’t see myself doing anything else in life.”

Justin Seaba played on Moorehead’s team, competing for eight years. The exercise and other factors keep him playing. He plans to play once he enters high school next year. “I like it because I love the exercise, because it’s fun and gets you ready for footwork. It’s something everyone should have, not just one player.”

This was Patrick Reed’s first year playing, but he wants to continue. “I love the running and exercise I get from it,” he said. “I wanted to play because I wanted to try something new. The games aren’t all body contact but I like it a lot. You learn so much and you learn all about teamwork.”

While Gobani Bahena isn’t sure if he would like to go professional, he wants to keep playing. “My dad used to play,” Bahena said. “He showed me how to play; for me, soccer is fun and entertaining.”

The enthusiasm Bahena’s dad showed is exactly what Knott wants more parents to show, because of how it can build the players’ confidence, skill levels, passion and grow the sport.

“I would love to see more participation,” Knott said. “I would love to see parents being more enthusiastic and giving kids the opportunity because it’s not only a great sport to play, but it’s also a builder for other sports with stamina, agility, footwork. Kids like it. They don’t feel as much pressure as some other sports. It’s a good opportunity for them to get out of the house and not be sitting on the couch watching TV or playing on YouTube.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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