Sawtooth United's Soccer Teams
local kids epitomize good health, sportsmanship, and the game of soccer
Photography: Courtesy of the Sawtooth United Football Club
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It’s a bright July day in the south Valley. The thump of young feet on soccer balls can be heard, as boys and girls in lime, yellow, and blue scrimmage vests weave though orange discs laid out on the thick green grass of Wood River High School’s soccer facility. Calls for the ball. Shouts of encouragement from coaches. Laughter. But most noticeable of all, the distinctive navy and gold shorts of the Sawtooth United Football Club.
For 10 years, young people have worn these shorts proudly—at Sawtooth’s annual July National Soccer Camp, on soccer fields throughout the state, and in streets and markets of the Wood River Valley. On the field and off, the shorts are badges of excellence, and the players who wear them are ambassadors of good health, sportsmanship, and the game of soccer.
The Sawtooth United Football Club was organized in 1996, with the express purpose of providing more touches on the ball, and allowing players to enhance their skills and maintain their fitness and love of the game of soccer. Club-level play would expose players to higher levels of competition and, according to co-founder Stewart Sonneland, “bring kids from the north and south ends of the Valley together.”
The club experience started with two boys’ teams, coached by Doug Hahn, and a girls’ team, coached by Sonneland. He winces as he recalls, “I took the girls to the State Cup in Boise in May. I thought the Cup was for rec teams. We got hammered. Big mistake.”
Since those early days, Sawtooth has risen in both numbers and stature to become one of the most respected soccer clubs in the Northwest. The size of the club has grown from 48 players in 1996 to more than 700 in 2005. “In the past five years,” observes past club president Mark Gasenica, “We have been the only soccer club in the state to grow at this rate (and no one is even close).”
Gasenica sums up the accomplishments of a decade: 20 championships and 22 second places; 14 players moving on to play in the Idaho
Olympic Development Program; a dozen who have entered the college ranks. “Being competitive from a mountain town, whose fields are covered with snow for five months, and going to tournaments against much larger cities and winning is very rewarding. Our major accomplishment, though, is getting more and more kids to play soccer.”
The Sawtooth programs include ages 5 to 18. The Development Program, initiated in 2000, teaches soccer fundamentals to area youth aged 5 to 12. It now serves more than 200 players, placed on 27 teams that train from April to June and participate in tournaments in May (the club-sponsored “Soccer in the Sawtooths” extravaganza) and June.