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Murray Journal

For more than two decades, high-level youth soccer thrives in Murray

Oct 04, 2018 02:15PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Lucky Phonharath attempts to put a penalty kick over or around a human defensive wall. (Steve Christensen)

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com

The former Murray Max soccer program – which officially changed its name to the Murray Soccer Club two years ago – continues to provide advanced level instruction and playing opportunities for hundreds of area youth. The club has been alive and well and thriving for more than 20 years.

That kind of stability and success only comes through a lot of hard work from parents, coaches and volunteers dedicated to providing a quality youth program at an affordable price.

Among them is second year Murray Soccer Club President Jim McKenna.

“(In August) we held our Max Cup Tournament with more than 140 teams and 1,500 players participating,” McKenna said. “The Murray Soccer Club was founded in 1996 and continues to grow each year.”

Additionally, just last year Murray Soccer Club opened an indoor facility to allow for year-round training. The site also hosts soccer camps and three-on-three soccer tournaments.

Murray High School boys soccer head coach Brian DeMann was one of those involved in establishing Murray Max a generation ago.

“We began in 1996 with just a few teams and are now up to 45 teams or more,” he said. “We saw other more advanced youth soccer leagues succeeding in other parts of the valley and decided Murray needed a program also. About 75 to 80 percent of our players are Murray residents. The league has worked hard to keep prices down, while also developing teams that can compete with anyone.”

Indeed, at that 15th annual Max Cup soccer tournament – with teams coming in from all across northern Utah – eight boys and two girls teams from the Murray program advanced to their championship games with half of them winning titles.

Club President McKenna reported, at last count, the program included 290 male players and 186 females. He said the number of girls is down a bit this fall because Murray High School has them on their teams.

“We usually add another 20 to 30 players after the girls’ high school season is over,” he said. “Those girls only play in the Murray Soccer Club in the spring because of the conflict.”

A 1975 graduate of Murray High School himself, DeMann has been guiding the Spartans’ boys soccer program for about 15 years.

“The growth of the Murray Soccer Club has had a huge impact on the number of athletes trying out for the high school team,” DeMann said. “The first year I coached, nearly every kid who tried out made it onto the varsity or JV teams. We kept 32 kids on the two teams and had about 35 try out.

“But for the past seven or eight years we have had no fewer than 80 kids try out. There has been much, much growth.  I would guess we have one of the biggest turnouts of any (high school boys soccer) program in the state.”

DeMann said athletes who try out for his teams are not required to have played in the Murray Soccer Club. But he also adds, “They probably need to have played in a higher-level soccer program somewhere. The days of students making the team after only playing recreation soccer are pretty much over.”

However, along with providing athletes a higher level of coaching and tournaments comes the ever-present challenge of doing it without forcing parents into bankruptcy.  

“Our soccer fees for fall and spring soccer combined run about $700,” McKenna said. “And, by the time uniforms are purchased and extra tournaments are funded, that will easily go over $1,000. But that is still pretty economical compared to the other youth soccer clubs across the valley. We are constantly working to keep those costs as low as possible.”

Parents who can’t afford the fees are encouraged to talk with league officials before giving up on the idea.

“We offer reduced entrance fees to students who are eligible for reduced cost lunches at school, for example,” McKenna added. 

Additionally, scholarship funding is provided to many players. League officials say that this season 39 players are receiving $12,000 in scholarship funding.

Siblings Rebekah and Stephen Preston are among them.

“We have seven children and really can’t afford to get all of them into the activities their peers are doing,” their mother Desiree Preston said. “We are very grateful the Murray Soccer Club works with us to make it more affordable.”

For the past two years, she said Rebekah’s fees have been partially paid through the Anya Ng Soccer Scholarship. A former player in the Murray Soccer Club, Anya died in a swimming accident at age 15.  Her family established the scholarship, stating, “We want to keep Anya’s memory alive by honoring Anya’s legacy as well as giving back to the community.”

Players or parents wishing to learn more about the organization and the scholarship funding available should visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.murraysoccer.com" murraysoccer.com.