Soccer is rapidly increasing in popularity in America, and some say it will soon surpass baseball as the No. 3 favorite sport in America (football and basketball, respectively, holding the No. 1 and No. 2 spots). Here, thanks to the ongoing work of the Norman Youth Soccer Association, soccer enjoys a considerably higher popularity rating than in many other parts of the state and country.
The soccer association was formed in 1976 by Gordon Drummond and Bob Shalhope. Gordon is also the first and only Norman High School men’s soccer team coach notes Don Rother, who has been involved with the club for 35 years, beginning as a player and progressing to coach, director of player development, director of coaching, and now as executive director.
At the association’s heart is its soccer program, Oklahoma Celtic, whose mission is to “encourage, promote and stimulate interest and participation in the game of soccer by organizing recreational and competitive soccer teams; developing our players, coaches and referees; promoting sportsmanship; maintaining proper playing facilities; and operating in a financially responsible manner.”
Oklahoma Celtic provides programming for Recreational, Academy, Competitive and Adult leagues, as well as TOPS (The Opportunity to Play Soccer for physically and mentally challenged athletes), a program through the nonprofit U.S. Youth Soccer Association.
“We are a proud member of both the Girls and Boys ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and Oklahoma Premiere Clubs and National Premiere League,” Don adds.
Association staff, parents of players and other supporters are excited about plans to build one of the finest soccer complexes in the region, right here in Norman, at the Gillis-Rother Soccer Complex, 1001 E. Robinson.
“The association’s leadership team, parents and other soccer supporters were vocal and visible during City Council meetings on the Norman Forward initiative, through which the complex at Griffin Park will be funded,” Don says. “We felt that, as a club, that this was the right thing to do not only for us, but for the whole of Norman.”
Norman Forward is a quality-of-life initiative proposed by community groups and residents, placed on the ballot by the City Council, and approved by 72% of Norman voters on Oct. 13, 2015.
“We have a real opportunity to create something special through the Norman Forward initiatives,” Don says.
For Don personally, soccer has been a lifelong passion; he carries that passion into his involvement in the club. And he’s not alone.
“One of the great things about our club is that we have deep roots here with coaches and people of great character who continue to allow us the opportunity to grow the club,” Don says. “We are unique in a sense that what began as a grassroots effort has grown into something bigger than we could ever have hoped.”
Don notes that the early movers and shakers of the club continue to support the organization, soccer and the community.
“Gordon Drummond, one of the founders, continues to coach the men’s soccer team at Norman High and still maintains an active role in the community and soccer in Norman. Steve Gillis, one of the men for whom the complex is named, continues to invest in the NYSA/Oklahoma Celtic program, as well as the city. And Bryan Rother, the other gentleman for whom the complex is named, has two grandchildren who play in the club, and he is a huge supporter in various other ways.”
With the addition of Skip Thorpe, the club’s newly appointed technical director, Don said he’s excited to now have more time to get further involved in the community and to help bring more tournaments to Norman, which not only benefits the club’s players and families, but also helps boost the local economy.
“This really does feel like a new era of soccer is starting here,” Don reflects. “There is so much on the horizon, and we are taking pride in being able to offer kids of all ages a chance to be involved in whatever capacity they desire. We have so many coaches who pour their hearts and souls into our recreational program, and we couldn’t do what we do without the parents who invest in our next generation, and the people of Norman who support these children with initiatives such as Norman Forward.”
How You Can Help
To accommodate as many area children as possible, the association awards approximately 700 scholarships a year, Don says. Scholarship opportunities continue through the ECNL and competitive leagues as well, providing some children the opportunity to play and to learn from college coaches who might not otherwise have that chance.
Readers can support the association via its two annual fundraisers, the NYSA Golf Tournament and Cleats 4 Kids. To learn more about corporate sponsorship opportunities for the golf tourney, which funds scholarship opportunities to financially challenged athletes to be able to learn and compete in soccer, and the Cleats 4 Kids program, email Don at email@example.com.
Vision Statement: To be the premier soccer program in Oklahoma for total player development, with an emphasis on teaching life lessons that translate beyond the field of play.
Core Values: P.R.I.D.E. (Passion, Respect, Integrity, Development, Excellence)
Oklahoma Celtic Colors: Kelly green, black, white
For more information, visit OklahomaCeltic.com; or @oklahomaceltic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.