The newspaper clippings in 1978 reveal something quite incredible about a little soccer experiment in Napa. It begins with friends Tony Cervone and Charles Jezycki forming a non-profit youth organization called Napa Youth Soccer League, and why not? Their sons were pretty good players and the popularity was at an all-time high. Pele’ and Beckenbauer had captured the attention of the nation at New York Cosmos and the world cup was going to kick off in Argentina. Along comes Mike McBride, a 25-year old police officer and graduate of Justin-Siena looking to take on a hobby. After talking with Cervone and Jezycki, he became President of this new soccer league. After a few public announcements, they took on player registrations. What happened next is history!
“Soccer League Gets Booming Start” reads the headlines on August 15, 1978 of the Napa Valley Register. More than 400 boys and girls signed up, which far exceeded McBride’s expectations. There were so many signing up, they had to turn people away. McBride promised they’d be better prepared next year. He also expected NYSL to double its size in two years. Growth came earlier than expected. “Napa Youth Soccer League Doubled in Size as Sport Continues to Grow.” That was the headline in November 20, 1979. New president George Czerwonka reported that 1,134 players had registered on 77 teams, by far surpassing any other youth sport organization in the Napa Valley.
In 1980 St. Helena and Calistoga got into the action. The St. Helena Star tracked the various teams’ progress in St. Helena with weekly updates of scores, records, star players, and coach interviews. Ten years later in 1988, the NYSL is registering over 2,000 youth annually.
Fast-forward to 2018 and you’ll find the Cervone-Jezycki experiment is flourishing. Now called Napa United (the recreation and club operations merged in 2013), the organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is taking on new activities. “We are very excited about our new Academy Program, which is in partnership with the men’s amateur team Napa Valley 1839 FC,” says Napa United’s President Chris Salese. “Forty years ago, it was a novelty to have a soccer organization. Now we are hiring professional soccer coaches and a full-time Academy Director. Who would have thought!”
The Academy Director Salese refers to is Gavin Taylor. Director Taylor hails from London England, where he coached alongside some of England’s greatest coaches: Roy Hodgson, Mark Hughes, and the U-21 National Team Coach Steve Wigley at Fulham Football Club. Taylor won the Youth Premier League Championship, was runner-up in the youth FA Cup to Chelsea, won the international Dallas Cup, and has trained soccer greats including Clint Dempsey. The new Academy program is unique in that it incorporates its philosophies and teaching methods with Napa Valley 1839 FC. This way, the youth soccer players are receiving the consistent training that can potentially send them off to professional levels.
“In 1978 our Board of Directors had a vision to provide a place for Napa Valley’s youth to learn and enjoy the game of soccer,” said Salese. “We think Napa United 1839 Academy honors that vision and takes it to a new level. But it’s the flagship program that has made us who we are and is the heart and soul of our organization.”
Indeed, not every soccer player has dreams to be Pele’ (or Messi for today’s generation). “The reason soccer is so successful, I believe, is because it’s just a fun sport where everyone can play,” said Salese. What is commonly referred to as Rec amongst the organization hasn’t really changed since 1978. “Back then you walked into a gym and registered, showed a copy of your birth certificate (if you were a first-time player), paid one fee, and waited for a call in August,” recounts Executive Director Peter Weber. “I believe the fees were $35 and a discount for a second child. That included a uniform but not soccer boots. It’s basically the same today, only there’s a bit of adjusted inflation from forty years.”
Today, Napa United serves approximately 2,000 youth in its various programs. Those programs include: Little Kickers clinics for 3-4 years of age, seasonal camps, after-school programs, Rec soccer, Club soccer, Academy soccer, and U-21 La Liga soccer. Napa United also provides training for referees and coaches. Napa United hosts an annual soccer tournament called the Wine Country Classic which brings in teams throughout Northern California in the summer. Finally, its close relationship with the men’s amateur soccer team Napa Valley 1839 FC ensures that soccer players have many options to play.
For forty years, harvest means something a little different to many children in the Napa Valley. “I remember growing up in St. Helena and smelling the wet, fresh cut grass,” recalls Weber. ““I can still remember how it felt and tasted, when coming home with grass stains and itching like crazy because it was so hot. I remember wishing it would rain so I could make slide tackles. Fall time was busy for my dad because he was in the wine business, as many moms and dads were. But for me, Fall was soccer time. I just want to help carry those memories on for my kids and others too”
If you want to create memories for your child, Napa United is offering Fall Recreation soccer sign-ups from March 1st to May 30th. Ages are for any child born from 2014 to 2000. You can register at napaunited.org. Napa United is also offering a Spring Season that starts up April 1st and ends late May. Registration is also handled through their website.
For further questions about Napa United’s programs and services, visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.