When their children aged out of the city of Winter Garden’s youth soccer league, a group of local parents decided to start their own league — Firestorm FC Soccer.
The need was there.
Joe Gitto, Scott Green, Clarence Lockhart and Chip Wilson had coached their kids for years as they came up through the city of Winter Garden’s youth soccer league at Braddock Park.
But time ran out, in a sense, as their own children approached the league’s cut-off of age 13 — the league is for players ages 12 and younger. So, a solution was needed.
“Both of our daughters kind of aged out, so we talked about it and said, ‘Hey, man, let’s get a league going for the older kids,’” Lockhart said, recalling a conversation with Gitto.
The group, led by Gitto, brought the proposition to the city of Winter Garden to expand its current offerings, but the reception was not exactly warm.
“We approached the city and said, ‘Hey, these kids are aging out and they want to play,’” Gitto said. “We were told, ‘If you want to start something, go ahead — you’re never going to get more than five or six kids interested.’”
More than 50 kids later, the group of local parents may have been on to something, after all.
The newly christened Firestorm FC Soccer League has four teams competing in its inaugural season this fall, and even the league’s original organizers are surprised by the response.
“We were shocked ... we’re actually still getting emails (from interested parents),” Gitto said.
Gitto and company feel the expanded offering for teens ages 13 to 15 is important. After age 12, there are not as many options for players that don’t involve club or travel teams — which require a larger commitment.
“It’s hard for that age group unless you go play for a club,” Lockhart said. “A lot of these kids just like to play the game.”
With its four teams, Firestorm FC has been hosting games on Saturday mornings for more than six weeks now. Halfway through its inaugural season, the league also has each team practice once a week and teams are coed, with local boys and girls from schools including Bridgewater Middle, SunRidge Middle, Legacy Charter and freshmen at West Orange and Windermere High working together on each side.
The coed format has been a success, Gitto said, creating a unique atmosphere balancing competition and friendliness.
“It’s interesting — it’s very competitive, but it’s not that nasty competitive,” Gitto said.
All skill levels are welcome, and coaches emphasize seeing progress with each individual player relative to where he or she started the season.
For now, the league plays its games and hosts its practices at the field at Calvary Baptist Church, 631 S. Dillard St., Winter Garden. Green is a parishioner there, helping to facilitate the accommodation, and Firestorm has been very thankful for the space. Still, as the league eyes hosting a spring season and continued growth, the search is on for a larger full-time venue that has lights. Because the sun is going down earlier, it has become problematic for weeknight practices.
“If we can find a field site that would accommodate us, that would do it cost-effectively, yes — absolutely (we would relocate),” Gitto said. “We appreciate what the church has done for us, but this is far from ideal.”
Interested families who would like for their children ages 13 to 15 to get involved can contact the league either through its Facebook page — Facebook.com/FirestormFCSoccer/ — or by emailing Gitto at [email protected]. The league is open to take on new players for the second half of the current fall season, but more importantly is accepting registration for its first spring season.
“The more the merrier,” Lockhart said. “We’re going to continue to grow.”