Once upon a time — and not very long ago at that — the revival of Optimist youth football in Miami Springs was on a roll and flourishing with momentum.
So much for once upon a time.
A candid conversation with league president Damian Sosa earlier this week, during which he openly voiced his disappointment with many factions around town, revealed a much different picture as the 2013 season descends upon us.
Sosa these days is like the guy standing in an empty room where there was a big party going on that suddenly ends and is yelling out, “Where did everybody go?”
Such is the dilemma facing Sosa and the City of Miami Springs these days as a lack of signups and many non-area players not returning from last season has resulted in the cancellation of all but one weight class.
The 120-pound team of 12-year-olds is the only Miami Springs team slated to kick off the 2013 season on Aug. 17 and that’s only because Sosa himself is the coach.
“I would be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me off guard a little,” said Sosa, who said it all started to come unraveled a few months ago when he discovered that five players slated to play in the 150-pound division were going to be too old to play. “A coach from North Miami Beach was bringing a bunch of kids over to play when I discovered that five of them turned 15 before the end of the year, which made them ineligible to play.”
Sosa said that the coach was forced to take the kids elsewhere to play, but that wasn’t the end of it.
“There was a domino or rippling effect from that,” Sosa said. “Because a lot of those older kids had younger siblings who were going to play 75s and 90s and we lost them, too.”
It was only last November that Coach Tarvis Williams had the Miami Springs 75-pounders taking on Key Biscayne in the Xtreme Youth Football Super Bowl at Milander Stadium. Just two years ago, there were so many people at the postseason awards banquet that Sosa actually ran out of room to put people at tables.
But, oh, how the tide has swayed the other way.
Williams, as it turned out, doled out quite a bit of his own money carpooling kids around to get them to practice at Prince Field on a nightly basis and points elsewhere for games. When he found getting reimbursed was a problem, he turned his caravan northward and now most of those kids play for Miami Gardens.
Those might be enough reasons to curb your growth as a league but what really has Sosa more irked than anything else is the lack of response from parents and coaches inside the Miami Springs community itself.
“I’m extremely disappointed with just the overall lack of interest from the community as far as signing up kids,” Sosa said. “What really bothers me the most is that there appears to be a real ‘anti-football’ feeling from what I like to call ‘soccer nation’ in the community. I know first-hand of one coach that openly discouraged any of his soccer kids from coming out for football claiming that it was ridiculous that football practiced five times a week.”
What really set Sosa off on a rant is all the heat he took from around the community in recent years over bringing “outside” kids in to play Miami Springs Optimist football.
“It’s amazing how much I was criticized last year for having so many kids who didn’t live in the area on these teams,” Sosa said. “But the bottom line, and we’re finding this out now, is that there just simply are not enough parents in the local area around here, for whatever the reason and I’m sure soccer has something to do with it, willing to make a football commitment.”