When you’re 14, it isn’t easy getting slide-tackled by a 19-year-old striker with 40 more pounds of brawn.
But that’s a reality for early teens in Brooklyn’s American Youth Soccer Organization league at the Parade Grounds this fall. Due to low enrollment, the 14-year-olds will be in there with the big boys, according to an e-mail sent to players’ parents last month.
“They’re combining the two divisions — that scares me,” said James Lola, parent of a 14-year-old boy who registered for the fall league and requested anonymity because his father was embarrassing him. “Think about it: a 19-year-old kid and my son both racing for the ball and colliding. That wouldn’t end well.”
Low registration in the ages 16-19 division — which is normal, according to league officials — forced Brooklyn league organizers to merge that division with the 14-16 division, a move that Lola thinks is akin to running 18-wheelers against Smart cars in a demolition derby.
Worse, Lola claims that his concerns were met with indifference, as league officials did not respond to multiple calls. One e-mail, however, was telling:
“I don’t think safety is the issue,” Dennis Trott, the league’s area director, wrote to Lola. “There are large 14-year-olds and small 19-year-olds, and collisions, other than skull on skull, rarely result in significant injury.”
Lola begged Trott to at least make parents aware of the situation, but he replied, “No.”
Trott told us that the merger is normal, and that most of the older boys are put on teams with similar skill levels so that nobody gets hurt.
“Safety is our number one concern, always,” Trott said. “These coaches have known the boys sometimes since they were four years old. We would never pit kids against each other if there was a safety issue.”
Managers at AYSO’s national office in California offered some suggestions that the Brooklyn league could implement to even out the divisions — like making every team smaller or creating more co-ed teams — but noted that it’s up to the area manager.
Now Lola is at his wit’s end. His son will play, but the dad worries about his safety.
“Safety should not take a backseat to fielding a minimum number of teams,” he said. “I’m dismayed at the response I’ve gotten from the league, but what can I do at this point?”