At mid-afternoon in Rockville, groups of sharks and minnows are chasing each other back around the field behind Ritchie Park Elementary School. Duncan Mullis, sports program specialist with the city of Rockville, stops the game and adds soccer balls to the mix, then the students start running again, this time kicking soccer balls ahead of them.
Elsewhere on the field, kindergarteners and first-graders kick soccer balls — and sometimes the orange-cone boundary markers — toward kid-sized goals. Six-year-olds might not pick up on much technique or goal-making strategy, but they can play games that introduce the concept of soccer. Mullis hopes the “sports fun days” he is organizing at Rockville schools will get children up and moving and interested in sports.
“Hopefully, that will become a vehicle for them choosing to participate in soccer,” Mullis said, whether that means joining one of the city of Rockville’s soccer programs in the fall or another sports group. “Whatever — so long as it engages the kids and they have a good time.”
The sports fun day on Monday at Ritchie Park Elementary School was the first in a series that Mullis is organizing in cooperation with local schools and PTA groups.
Joanne Berry Faulkner, vice president of programs for the Ritchie Park Elementary PTA, helped organize the soccer day at the school. She said the after-school soccer program gave all the children who were interested a chance to participate.
“It was convenient, it was free, it was professional,” she said. “It didn’t matter how old you were ... it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl — it gave everybody a chance to experience soccer.”
She also said the event was a good way for parents to introduce their children to soccer before joining a team or class, especially if they are not sure they will like it.
“That’s very valuable,” she said. “... There’s a lot of obstacles to getting your child into sports, and they just made it so easy to have that exposure.”
Mullis said he has more soccer programs planned for Beall, Maryvale and Ritchie Park elementary schools. He also hopes to add more sports and expand to more schools and community centers in the future.