Keeping Soccer in Malibu

All Curtis Augspurger can do when he sees a picture from 2012 of his daughter, Lola, and her friend, Sofia Shafai, arm-in-arm, smiling and decked out in their soccer uniforms, ready to take the playing field, is smile.

The Malibu dad said Lola and Sofia have played AYSO soccer together for several years. Each season, a variation of the same picture has been taken, showing the beaming duo. Augspurger said when he reflects on moments behind the picture, he realizes a volunteer-parent took the photograph and cemented those special moments for the girls.

“Malibu AYSO has a long, great history,” he said. “It’s got tradition and a lot of really great bonds that kids have been able to forge.” 

As the new Malibu AYSO regional director, Augspurger hopes to tap into the youth soccer league’s history of players — from tikes to teenagers — forging friendships in order to draw more parent-volunteers to the program, which has hundreds of participants each fall and winter.

Augspurger harked to a recent sports story in The Malibu Times where a Malibu High School girls soccer player described how she and most of her teammates have played together since AYSO.

“You see the matriculation from four year olds, five year olds and six year olds to high school, and the kids are still playing together,” he said. “As much as it’s about soccer, it’s about forging relationships and friendships.”

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AYSO, a nonprofit, has relied heavily on volunteers throughout its 52-year history of being one of the main national youth soccer organizations in the country.

Augspurger said the local AYSO is asking that each family with a player in AYSO have at least one volunteer.

“Participate in the growth and education of your kid through soccer,” he said. “It’s not just rewarding for the kids — it’s really engaging for the parents.”

Online registration for AYSO in Malibu kicked off on April 4. In-person sign-ups will be on Saturday, April 9, at the Malibu Country Mart and Saturday, April 16, at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. Augspurger said the league is hoping over 600 kids participate when play starts.

However, there is work that needs to be done. AYSO was on the verge of shutting down in Malibu due to vacancies in the position Augspurger now holds and the role of assistant regional commissioner for the lower divisions, also now occupied.

Other volunteers are still needed, though, for some league executive positions and game day volunteers, including dozens of referees and people to help set up the field.

Malibu AYSO Assistant Regional Commissioner for the Upper Divisions Vince Bradley said the league is on the right track.

“We are doing better, but there is still ways to go,” he said. “It is crucial that we continue volunteerism.”

Augspurger hopes that a combination of the focus on rebranding Malibu AYSO’s 30-year history in the city and continuing the tradition of youth building lasting bonds draws volunteers to the league.

Changes are also in the works. Augspurger said local AYSO leadership is attempting to simplify the volunteer referee training. Previously, training was a one-day, eight-hour ordeal. Now, parents will be able to do most of the training online, and there will be multiple training days for shorter time periods.

“We are trying to make it simpler to be part of the system and have parents really integrate and see your kids grow,” he said.

Bradly said volunteer referees are key to the league.

“It’s a really nice opportunity,” he said.

Another change is in the works to the league’s picture day, thanks to a partnership with expert photographer Roui Israel, who runs the education program at Sammy’s Camera, Augspurger said.

“The existing system was almost a circus where everybody has to show up on one day, get your picture taken and then race off to your game in different locations,” he said. “What we are trying to do this year is set up a couple of seminars for local high school kids or interested parents to come and take a couple of courses. Sammy’s is going to work with Sony to donate some cameras and we are going to shoot through the course of the season.  We will have events captured on a game-to-game basis.

“We want to create a sustainable mentorship program,” Augspurger added.

A mentorship for referees and first-time coaches is something the league is hoping to establish next season also. During the summer, Augspurger said Malibu AYSO will begin a push to work with local businesses. The organization’s website has been overhauled and an app that allows coaches to send information to parents is on the horizon.

The new AYSO official said a streamlined organization makes volunteering simple.

“AYSO is here and will be stronger than ever,” Augspurger said. “You won’t have to take your kids over the hill to play soccer.”

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