Immediately, 200 boys and girls signed up. Four years later the number was 1,600.
So much for three or four teams. And a line from that beginning, almost 37 years ago, to 6 p.m. tonight, when the girls’ games kick off, is a straight one.
NHS girls coach Tyler Hardage, North girls coach Don Rother and North boys coach Geo Claros all grew up in the NYSA and all continue to coach within the program. Rother and Claros played for Drummond at NHS.
The hold the sport has on Norman is not merely significant, but unique.
“The way soccer sets up in Norman,” Hardage said, “you get to play with your friends and you get to keep those teams together for a while.”
For many, the high school programs actually separate long-time NYSA Celtic and Fury teammates for the first time. Still, that’s a testament to the hold the NYSA has on players from in town. Norman kids may play their club soccer elsewhere, but it’s not common.
“We have a good organization that supports soccer and that gives a lot of kids the opportunity to play soccer growing up, and there’s a lot of loyalty,” Rother said. “The difference between us and other (places) is most of our club players stay together and play in Norman and then go to high school together.”
It creates a connection that’s hard to break.
“If there’s a big game, people come back to watch,” Claros said. “You see lots of kids that you coached 4 or 5 years ago. I don’t think you see that in other places … There’s a sense of community with our soccer.”
While popular from the start, soccer has managed to become cool.
“In the early 90s we started to get a lot of our better athletes choosing to play soccer,” Claros said.