Very few things create childhood memories like participating in clubs. Whatever the activity and purpose of the club, these groups help kids create lifelong friendships and build a strong sense of character.
The Pleasant Hill Soccer Club is one of those groups that help introduce kids to the kind of environment that will help forge those foundations by encouraging participation and good sportsmanship with their members.
The Pleasant Hill Soccer Club, which began in 1995, is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers for kids in Pleasant Hill and the surrounding areas. Right now the club has about 400 members ranging from ages 4 to 18. That requires a whole lot of volunteers, including close to 70 coaches.
“We can’t function without our volunteers,” Brian Newton, club president says. “Between coaches and the board, and everyone that does things for the club, we have incredible volunteers.”
Two of those are Janet and Mark Johnson. Janet has been an assistant coach for four years, and her husband Mark has been coaching for more than 10 years. They started in the club when their eldest son, Jace, began playing in the club. After Jace, their youngest son, Talen, joined a team, and then their daughter, Kenadi, started kicking balls around.
These days Kenadi is the only Johnson kid still playing for the club, but Janet and Mark enjoy working with the kids so they continue. Though their kids got them involved, Janet says she has developed a mentoring relationship with a lot of the girls she assists with and appreciates the good attitude the kids are encouraged to exhibit.
“We have always taught our kids it is about having fun,” she says.
The biggest thing Newton and the Johnsons emphasize about PHSC is that they are a recreational club. Other leagues offer a more competitive setting, but kids joining PHSC are taught from the start that having fun, playing fair and being a good teammate is more important than winning.
“We really try to encourage our coaches that first and foremost is good sportsmanship and setting a good example, and showing the kids the right way to participate in sports,” Newton says.
Newton’s children; Kenzie, 8, and Grant, 11, have been with the club since they were able to join at age 4. As a result, Newton got involved with volunteering and has now been acting as president for a little more than a year. He says there are a lot of lessons to be learned from soccer including teamwork, self-confidence, and, of course, that you can’t always win.
“It teaches them how to be humble,” he says.
Newton emphasizes that the recreational environment is important to PHSC because it lets the kids participate without the pressure of having to win.
“We really try to create a fun club for our players without the win at all costs mentality,” Newton says.
Beyond soccer, PHSC has camps and open clinics for members. The camps also give the older members the opportunity to learn how to referee and become licensed to be an official at the games for younger kids.
Sports aren’t the only opportunity for clubs in Pleasant Hill. Another place to get involved in activities is through the schools.
Mike Dailey, principal at Southeast Polk Junior High School, estimates there are 10 active clubs in the school right now, but says that anyone interested in starting a club is invited to present the idea to him or another staff member. If there is enough overall interest, a club can be organized.
One that has been gaining a lot of attention from students lately is the gardening club.
Kole McNeer, a seventh grade member of the club, is looking forward to the weather breaking so the gardening club can start working on the outdoor garden provided by the school.
“Right now we’re cleaning up the greenhouse, getting ready to plant,” he says. This entails washing the pots and preparing the dirt.
Riley Pritchard, another member of the club, explains the process as an assembly line.
“When we’re making the soil right, some people have to be scooping dirt into a tray and two people shake it so that the big clumps stay and the good dirt falls down, then we put that (the big clumps) in the bucket and smash up the big pieces.”
She says this is a great way to establish teamwork with the club members. Once the planting begins, Pritchard says she’s looking forward to learning the science behind gardening.
The club members have the opportunity to plant a variety of flowers and vegetables, some of which are from seeds harvested from the cafeteria staff specifically for the club.
McNeer says he chose the gardening club because he enjoys gardening, but also because the club gives back to Pleasant Hill.
Another member of the club, Johnson Huynh, explains.
“I joined to help out in the community,” Huynh says, “because there’s a lot of people in need in the world, so like even if I just help here, it will make a difference.”
The students are also aware that learning these skills now will help in the future.
“We’re learning how to know which pots are right for which plants and what good soil looks like,” Pritchard says. “This will help me with my garden at home.”
Though she’s only in seventh grade, Pritchard is already looking beyond her home garden to college. She is leaning toward a career in culinary science, and she thinks knowing how to grow her own produce will be beneficial.
Dailey says it is important for kids to get involved in activities, whether at school or within the community, because it encourages a sense of belonging and a connection with the world around them.
“School and community means a little bit more to them because they are doing something they care about,” Dailey says.
Mark Johnson agrees that involvement gives his kids a better outlook. He thinks the biggest improvement he’s seen in his daughter Kenadi is the increase in her self-confidence.
“It’s hard to get the benefit down to one thing, because she’s really grown,” he says.”It’s a great opportunity for her.”
Dailey says involvement in extra activities gives kids a boost in just about every area.
“Whether it’s band or choir or the gardening club, these kids are with their peers, and they’re learning something, and they’re involved with things they are going to take with them for the rest of their lives.”