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Worthington United is providing youth with competitive soccer learning and opportunity

“The beginning point for all this is teaching soccer skills and creating an opportunity for kids to play competitively."

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Worthington United meets for practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Dominic Burns/The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Soccer is a staple of the Worthington community and now through the efforts of Worthington United Inc. — Youth Soccer Academy, the local talent is being showcased in tournaments across the area.

The idea of Worthington United began in a park. Mario Cordova, an assistant coach for WCFC, would host free soccer lessons for all. They were a hit, but they were also very hard to administer and coordinate.

(Editor's Note: In addition to coaching with WCFC. Cordova has also served as the founder and former president of Worthington United.)

That is when John Gossom was approached. Gossom’s two sons have both played soccer, and due to his experience he was approached to become a volunteer coach at the free soccer clinics.

But Gossom realized what this idea really needed was not his coaching, but rather someone to take charge of paperwork and back-end logistics. For example, kids would be assigned teams with their proper age groups rather than taking time at each practice to separate and assign individuals.

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A group began formulating the idea of taking the free lessons in the park and turning them into an organization and soccer academy.

“The beginning point for all this is teaching soccer skills and creating an opportunity for kids to play competitively,” said Gossom. “But we are also looking to do more than that. We understand the importance of competitive sports in children's lives and the opportunity it allows for instilling other values like dedication and hard work and good sportsmanship. We are trying to accomplish all that.”

Now over a year later, Worthington United continues to grow and operate. The academy has eight teams ranging from U6 to U18. Included is a girls U14 team, which snowballed its way into existence in under a month.

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Worthington United practices passing drills on a Wednesday practice
Dominic Burns/The Globe

“Ultimately — at the root of the whole thing — why it is named Worthington United is that we are trying to bring different groups in the community together around the love for soccer,” said Gossom. “The spirit of the open doors for everyone in the park is still there but the recognition is there that it has to be more organized. If we are going to be able to do things like go to competitive tournaments we are going to have to have an administrative approach that is a little deeper.”

The year-round academy costs $100 quarterly for kids under 8 years old and $150 quarterly for kids above. The fee can also be paid annually for $350 for 8 and younger or $550 for older kids.

Worthington United has scholarships to help families in need cover the cost of keeping their kids active. Last Friday, the Worthington Regional HealthCare Foundation, INC. announced a $15,000 grant to help Worthington United give out scholarships.

“It is still the same spirit of volunteer coaching and wanting to help your kids. It has just become an organization that is a little more permanent and sustainable,” said Gossom.

Worthington United Academy has practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

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Worthington United Soccer U9 group for ages 5 to 8 are run through a drill overseen by John Gossom during the soccer program Friday evening.
Worthington United group ages 5 to 8 practice a drill overseen by John Gossom during the soccer program Friday evening.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

In the winter and when indoor practices are needed, Worthington United has used Lakeside Church.

The Worthington United teams compete in tournaments on weekends. Some teams go on certain weekends while others go on others. Locations for the tournaments have included Austin, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa.

Jerry Freimuth enrolled his son Daniel Freimuth a few months after Worthington United opened its doors.

“It has grown substantially since the beginning. … John and the main crew did a really good job just sticking with it, putting it together — bringing all the kids together, creating the practices,” said Freimuth after his son finished the U12 practice. “Daniel loves it. He gets to come out, run around, practice and play with his friends.”

Freimuth said his son played soccer in the yard but his first time with an academy was through Worthington United. Freimuth said he places a lot of importance on kids learning life skills through sports.

“I have always been an athlete since I was a kid. I played football, I love golf and being outdoors. I like to think I am a very disciplined man,” said Freimuth. “Sports is a good gateway for children to understand how to maneuver through life. To go through adversity and understand that things aren’t going to go correct, and some days you are going to be good and some days you are going to be bad.

“So ever since he was a baby we have always been doing the sports thing. His grandpa is what originally got him into soccer, and then he has always just kept a soccer ball around. He has just turned 12 and is in sixth grade so the school hasn’t had anything for him to be able to play yet. So it has just been more backyard games with friends and when I heard of the academy I put him in right away. It has been a great experience.”

Worthington United had girls practice but were unable to field a girls team until it all seemingly happened at once.

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“It was one of our big goals of this year to add at least one girls team,” said Gossom. “The girls as they get older are no longer playing with boys. It was disappointing to us to only see girls progress up through U10 or so and then no longer be interested in playing.”

The U14 girls team has been around since late winter. They were founded after a group of girls all decided to join Worthington United in a week and a half.

Emily Win plays on the team. Win has been a part of Worthington United for just a few months.

Mark Demuth works with a group of Worthington United Soccer U-14 girls as they work on a play during the soccer program Friday evening.
Mark Demuth works with a group of Worthington United Soccer U-14 girls as they work on a play during the soccer program Friday evening.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

“I have made a few new friends because of the new girls that have joined, but some of the girls I knew before,” said Win on her soccer experience. “As a team we work really well but I am hoping we can work on making more goals, trying our best and not giving up.”

The practices for the U14 girls team are entertaining. Demuth is an energetic man and the girls are into both the task at hand and learning to play soccer competitively.

“Coach Mark does these drills where we are passing with our friends and we talk while we are passing. It helps us learn about ball control,” said Win. “I have been doing much better than what I was at before.”

Demuth got involved with Worthington United through his fiancée. Demuth played soccer and has coached both boys and girls soccer in the past.

“I have been coaching girl teams around this age group in Worthington for like six, seven years,” said Demuth. “There was only one girl in this age group before this U14 team. There were only four girls in the program before this team started in March.”

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As a new team, the U14 team focuses a lot on the basic strategies of soccer.

“Ball control and learning to pass,” said Demuth on the main drills. “I go on a lot about which side of your foot to use, which side to turn left and right.”

But what has set the girls team apart from others is their positive and upbeat attitudes they carry everyday.

“We do a lot of defending but it is still fun. The girls are still smiling after a game no matter what the score is,” said Demuth. “I hope we can just build off that.”

Mark Demuth works with a group of Worthington United Soccer U-14 girls during the soccer program Friday evening.
Mark Demuth works with a group of Worthington United Soccer U14 girls during the soccer program Friday evening.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

Gossom said he hopes to see more girls teams expand. Currently girls in the younger ages are competing with the boys but Gossom hopes that the academy can expand to include teams for older girls in middle and high school.

“A new team requires a collection of kids — sort of like a critical mass — to get the ball rolling,” said Gossom. “When one girl shows up and sees that the age group available to them is a boys group — it doesn’t work. But when six girls come together suddenly you have something that is attractive that brings in additional kids.”

Dominic Burns is a reporter at the Globe who covers general news and sports.
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