Westbrook hopes free girls soccer will boost numbers

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WESTBROOK — Girls sports in Westbrook have found themselves in a bind in recent years as participation at the youth level has plunged. Now, the Westbrook Soccer League has announced a new measure to battle that trend: All girls who register for soccer by May 15 can play for free.

Offering no-cost play is an unusual move, but one the league feels is warranted. “We’ve seen our female youth participation over the last five to 10 years decrease to a point where we can barely field teams at any age group,” says Andy Lefebvre, a member of the league’s board and also its head of coaches.

The pricetag associated with play any sport can be daunting, as Lefebvre readily acknowledges: “The league feels that one of the obstacles is cost,” he says, “so for this year we are eliminating this obstacle to get more females age 8-14 involved in youth sports.”

The low numbers aren’t confined to soccer, and the problem is rippling upward through the high school. “This is occurring in other sports as well, and then correlates to high school female athlete participation,” says Lefebvre, who also coaches the Lady Blazes soccer team.

Jamie Grant is president of the Westbrook Soccer League, as well as a U12 coach. “I can definitely say there has been a significant drop in female participation in sports in recent years,” Grant says. “Soccer seems to be the most affected by this, but I have seen other sports such as softball affected as well.”

At this point, Grant’s own team is coed: primarily boys, but with a smattering of girls because the numbers don’t exist to support a separate girls squad. “I’ve had two or three girls on this team for the last three years,” Grant says, “and it’s because there aren’t enough other girls their age to field a team.”

“Five-plus years ago, the league had girls teams at U10, U12, U14,” says Lefebrve. “The last two years we’ve only successfully had one age group with a team. At the high school, last soccer season … we had enough players for one team. This was the first time that has happened in my knowledge. That’s really not what you’d expect from a [Class A school].”

Lefebvre is unsure why participation is declining, but offered some speculations. “I would guess that sport specialization has impacted it,” he said. “Kids are feeling obligated to commit and practice one sport year-round … I also think socioeconomics and changes in school population have something to do with it. Lastly, I think the large number of offerings for extracurricular activities … has spread and thinned participation for each individual sport or activity.”

Anyone interested in signing up can do so www.gotsport.com/asp/application/reg/?ProgramID=58977&Type=PLAYER

Further questions can be emailed to the league at wsbksoccerleague@gmail.com.

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME

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