FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

 Harrisonburg soccer league builds bridges in the Harrisonburg community

Story by Haley Quinn

Photos by Sean O’Brien

A player goes to strike the ball at one of Harrisonburg’s spring recreational soccer leagues.

Since 1996, soccer in the Valley has created a community like no other. Ritter Clevenger, 40, has been playing since 2006 and now couldn’t imagine going without a season. His team “Udaman” is the second oldest in the league, and has held some great accomplishments through the years.

Harrisonburg is home to numerous soccer leagues that lend to all ages. During summer, the Shenandoah Valley Adult Soccer League takes flight. For $80 per player, you can find yourself a spot on a team. Ritter’s journey with SVAL started when his son Adam Clevenger expressed interest in gearing up for his high school season. “I hadn’t played the game in 16 years,” Ritter said. “When I found out that the league was 15 and up, it just made sense that we could play together.”

This league has given a father and son the opportunity to competitively play on a team together. With such a large age range, it attempts to provide growth in high school players by giving them the chance to play against more experienced players. “Being able to play with my dad was such a great experience,” Adam said. “We formed a team that was a mixture of my friends and his so the ages varied along with the nationalities.” The encouragement that Adam received from Udaman has not only helped his game, but also gave him life-long friends. “Udaman has always been a pleasure,” Adam said. “If we are to win or lose it’s always a great time playing with them.”

With each season the league has been growing. In the summer soccer league alone there are four different divisions with approximately 8-14 teams with varying skill levels.  When August has come and gone, the Fall and Spring Masters League begins. The Fall and Spring Masters League is a co-ed league where the men must be at least 30 and the women must be 21 or older. Two women must be present on the field at all times. Udaman can also be seen playing on the field during these seasons. “The diversity in this league is what makes it my favorite,” said Ritter. “We have guys that don’t speak a lick of English yet we can communicate clearly through soccer because we all know the game.”

On Ritter’s team there are players from not only the Harrisonburg community, but from Kenya, Ghana, England, Mexico, Jordan and Spain. The team thrives off the friendliness and cohesion that its players bring to the field. Despite coaching themselves and not holding practices, they come out to play every Friday night on Eastern Mennonite University’s turf field.  Steven Tennyson the head of the Masters league and player speaks similarly about the strong community the league develops. “It’s great,” said Tennyson. “A lot of the teams have been playing in the league for a long time so there are a lot of friendly rivalries.

At the end of the game we’re all friends and that’s what I appreciate most.” Tennyson has spent the last five years helping the Master’s League grow and become as popular as it is today. He also plays on the oldest team in the league, The Boneheads. “When I came on board five years ago the league was struggling,” Tennyson said. “We’ve changed our whole system from pen and paper to be online and it has done wonders for us.” Within these soccer leagues teams are always looking for players. People can come out with a group of friends or even by themselves as a free agent.

“Getting everyone who wants to get involved together is the goal of SVAL and the Masters League,” Ritter said.