Soccer Club Excited To Celebrate 50 Seasons In Cheshire

Soccer Club Excited To Celebrate 50 Seasons In Cheshire

In moving from East Hartford to Cheshire in 1978, Al McWhirter remembers how reading a copy of the local newspaper changed his life.

“My wife (Barbara) spotted an ad in The Cheshire Herald that said that soccer coaches were wanted for the Cheshire Soccer Club. It (the program) consisted of two teams at the time,” recalled McWhirter, who had played in high school and at Colby College (Maine). “I said to my wife that you don’t want that (for me to get involved) because it won’t stop there.”

From 1979 through 2009, McWhirter volunteered in multiple roles and watched a passion for soccer develop in countless young people in town.

“It was great to see all of the kids share that love and experience,” stated McWhir-ter. “There are kids I coached who are now living in my neighborhood and their kids are in high school. My wife and I can’t go to the grocery store without being stopped by players who want to say hello to us.”

McWhirter is among many residents who have contributed to the local soccer club reaching a milestone. From August of this year through June of 2023, CSC is celebrating their 50th season in existence.

“It is hard to believe that much time has come and gone,” reflected McWhirter. “It (the club) has grown and changed in Cheshire.”

Back in the spring of this year, CSC decided that they wanted to commemorate the 50th year. A committee was formed to plan events, starting with a mini 3-on-3 soccer tournament in August at Quinnipiac Park in Cheshire.

“We had about 60 kids in ages 8-14,” said DJ Pereira, the CSC Director of Coaching. “It was fun for the kids to come out and play.”

For his service to the club, the tournament was named after McWhirter.

“He worked with so many young kids over the years. That made us think of him for that honor,” added Pereira.

CSC is planning to hold a Gala on Dec. 7 at Aria, a banquet hall in Prospect. Organizers are looking into having a Hall of Fame ceremony, a silent auction, and a guest speaker.

“With the history of the club, we have had so many people give back,” reflected Pereira. “We would like to start a Hall of Fame and recognize those people.”

Pereira estimates that CSC has around 900 players from ages 3 to 23 this year, but the club kicked off on a much smaller scale. When McWhirter got involved, he was told that the organization started with high school boys wanting to play additional soccer games in the spring of 1972.

McWhirter recalls that for his inaugural season seven years later, there were just two boys’ teams (U-16, U-19) and an inaugural U-19 girls’ squad.

“There weren’t many players back then,” said McWhirter. “We had to build up the program.”

As time went on, he coached players ranging in age from 6 to 19.

“I enjoyed it,” reflected McWhirter. “It was a learning experience. You can’t coach 8-year-olds the same as 19-year-olds.”

For young players, he supported starting out playing with four to eight players instead of the regular 11-on-11.

“We tried to change to smaller-size games. That frees up the field before the kids play with 11 (players),” explained McWhirter.

As a newcomer in town, he liked forming connections through the sport.

“Once I learned about the game, I tried to pass it on to other people,” explained McWhirter. “I feel that is how soccer has grown nationwide.”

He has especially enjoyed seeing how girls’ soccer has developed in Cheshire. The soccer club started a U-19 team for players to develop skills and play games.

“Some of them were sisters of the boys’ players,” reflected McWhirter.

He loved seeing a girls’ team founded at CHS. With an influx of talent on the youth level, the Rams went on to win state titles in 2003 and 2005.

McWhirter said that CHS didn’t have girls ‘soccer until the 1980s.

“That (breakthrough) came from the girls playing in the spring,” said McWhirter.

McWhirter was appreciative of his wife’s support and help with soccer. When they decided to retire from volunteering with the club in 2009, a plaque was put up in their honor at Quinnipiac Park.

“Nothing would have been possible without her,” said McWhirter. “She didn’t start playing soccer, but she became a coach and also ran the referee program.”

Today in CSC, the fall and spring are very busy with athletes playing on multiple levels.

“We do programming in the wintertime for the kids to stay in shape for the next season,” Pereira said.

For an in-house league, boys and girls play against each other in four divisions (4-U, 6-U, 8-U, 10-U). There are also clinics for youngsters ages 5-10.

As players get older, they have the option to transition to competing for premier teams through high school. This summer, the U-16 boys’ squad captured the Connecticut Cup title.

CSC also fields adult teams up to U-23.

“We allow the kids to compete on the state and regional levels if they want,” stated Pereira. “We have a home for everyone.”

Pereira likes how players and families return to the club to give back in different ways.

“Now that I’ve been with the club for eight years, it is great to see the growth we’ve had,” reflected Pereira. “We always need people to help in all capacities.”

Before becoming an administrator, Pereira excelled as a soccer player. He began playing with CSC and went on to earn All-New England, All-Class LL, and All-Housatonic Division honors at CHS. He also became the school’s first soccer player to receive All-American.

Following graduation in 2008, Pereira played at Quinnipiac University and then competed professionally.

“I call it (soccer) a lifetime sport,” said Pereira. “The state of Connecticut has an over (age) 30, 40, and 50 team for people who want to keep playing.”

Through CSC, he wants to help athletes to be able to extend their careers in college.

“We have amazing talent in Cheshire,” stated Pereira. “With my staff, I want to give these kids the chance to play at the next level.”

Pereira feels that the club has grown due to the help of organizers and coaches.

“We only survive on the commitment of the community,” said Pereira. “The building blocks are at the volunteer level. The more enthusiastic coaches we have, the more kids want to come back and play.”

CSC is a recreational organization, but like McWhirter, Pereira believes the club has contributed to success on the high school level. Last fall, the CHS boys’ soccer team made the Class LL final for the first time since winning their only state crown in 1988.

Cheshire fell 3-2 to Farmington in the 2021 title game, but Pereira feels that the tournament run was a breakthrough for the program.

This year, the Cheshire girls’ team is off to an unbeaten start (9-0), while the boys have a 6-2 record.

“It is tremendous,” stated Pereira. “I think a part of that (success) is what we are doing at the youth level.”

While celebrating its 50th season, CSC is also planning for the future. Pereira said that he has set goals for the next 5, 10, and 15 years.

“I’m checking boxes of what we can add to the community and to our players,” stated Pereira. “For the 10-year goal, we want to be more recognized on the regional and national levels. We also want to bring more people into the organization.”


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