To register

Information about RAPRD Middle School Soccer Academy registration:

• Registration deadline: July 17

• Cost: $75 for in-district players, $98 for out of district

• To register: Visit raprd.org

The bridge between elementary and high schools might be getting easier to cross for Redmond youth soccer players.

The Redmond Area Park and Recreation District is rolling out its new Middle School Soccer Academy this fall. It is designed to give boys and girls in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, who previously had to either go out of town or play on potentially pricey club teams, a place to play.

RAPRD has tried over the years to start play for middle school players, but the play hasn’t gotten traction. Now, with the academy being overseen by Gio DeMartini, a former college player who went on to coach and scout for the U.S. Soccer’s Olympic Development Program for more than a decade, they feel confident that it will be a success.

“Since Gio came to be park of park and rec, he’s been about offering more in-depth training than we’ve offered before.” said Julane Price, RAPRD’s youth sports coordinator.

DeMartini played collegiately at Immaculata University outside Philadelphia. He operates a private soccer training business for players in Central Oregon and Northern California and coaches with the Bend FC Timbers club.

The lack of middle school-sponsored teams combined with rec leagues stopping in fifth grade has created the need for the academy, DeMartini said.

“I’ve lived in three states, there’s almost no school soccer programs outside of high school.”

That has led to 75 percent of soccer players leaving the sport after the fifth grade because of the lack of opportunities, Price said.

Park and rec plans to keep all its soccer coaches but give them new training, DeMartini said. It is also going back through its leagues for younger players to help coaches, some of whom may not be as well versed in soccer as other sports, better understand the game. Around 800 kids now play in the RAPRD soccer leagues.

“It will be a little more developmentally friendly, so they stay engaged and want to play for a longer period of time,” DeMartini said. “Just reinforcing the proper fundamentals, giving them a more comprehensive coaching experience than we’ve offered before.”

The program will start out as an academy, rather than a league. DeMartini compares it to a karate dojo.

“We run it to bring everybody together, have a competitive environment and allow them to keep playing in their hometown,” he said.

The academy will set up “play dates” to give the Redmond players a chance to compete against other recreation districts and area teams, DeMartini said.

Eventually, the program would like to grow enough to have a Redmond league for middle schoolers.

DeMartini expects the program to be beneficial in growing the talent pool for teams at Redmond and Ridgeview high schools.

“For a lot of kids, going into high school is already an overwhelming experience,” he said. “If you haven’t done something for three years, you’re even less likely to be involved.”

Tuesday is the registration deadline for the league. Practices start in August, with games running Sept. 8-Oct. 27.

“We’ll take any kids that want to come play with us,” DeMartini said.

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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