FAIRBANKS — First, Janet Schaefer’s sons fell in love with soccer. She had no choice but to follow along.
Now, 10 years with three boys heavily involved in the sport have turned this soccer mom into a seasoned coach with the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association, even though she has never played the sport a day in her life.
“It started with Henry when he was 4. I started coaching, I’ve coached for 10 years, and he’s played for 10 years. Then Rocky came along, and then Max came along,” Janet said. “They just all love soccer.”
A soccer family all the way, the Schaefer yard has a soccer goal with several balls in it. The boys Max, 7, Rocky, 11, and Henry, 14, fill the living room watching a replay of a recent 2010 World Cup game. Their mom is in the kitchen making the pre-game smoothies and tying to pack up everything they might need at the evening’s games. All three boys play, with games starting at 6, 8 and 9 p.m. for each boy. Nights like these can run as late as 11 p.m. for the family.
Being a soccer mom, especially for Janet, is a full-time job. In the summers the season starts at the beginning of June with practices and games four nights a week until the end of July. Some weekends have tournaments, meaning five to six nights are taken up by soccer. The ninth week is the big tournament, when wins and losses are actually recorded. The boys also play indoor soccer throughout the winter. One person who can’t make it to games this year is their father, Carl, who is often out of town for work.
“I enjoy watching them play ... and develop into better soccer players and better teammates,” Carl said. “Unfortunately, this spring, summer and fall I’ll be away from home more than I like and this is hard on all of us, especially my wife.”
“We have good kids and they understand why Dad has to work away from home in the summer, like many Alaskans do,” he continued. “When Janet leaves for the field, I’ll be Mr. Mom running them to practice, and the state cup, so I’ll get to experience some of their soccer season, which will be great.”
This season is he is taking the boys to play in Anchorage for the Alaska State Cup Tournament while Janet, a geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, is out of town doing field work in the Aleutian Islands.
“It gets a bit hectic,” she said. “So running from work, back here, pick up the kids, give them something to eat, make sure they have their gear, run to the soccer fields four nights a week plus weekend tournaments, it’s a little bit exhausting. They love it and it’s a great sport. I love just supporting them in what they want to do.”
Henry plays for the Phoenix 96, which is one of the competitive teams. He’s been playing since he was 4 years old. Now he plays as a center back, the very back of the defense, but it’s not what he wants to do professionally.
“After school, I want to be a sound engineer, I just like music a lot,” the 14-year-old said.
However, he has inspired his younger brothers to take up the sport. Rocky got into soccer when he was 5 because his brother played it. He ended up liking it, he said.
“I love it, and I’m pretty good with it, so I might as well stick with it,” Rocky said. He dreams of playing professionally someday for a team like Barcelona where his favorite pro, Lionel Messi, plays. If soccer doesn’t work out, he wants to be a runner.
The youngest player in the house, Max, has already been playing for two years. His favorite position is as goalie. However, his sights are set on England as the team he wants to play for.
As to why he wants to play as a pro? “You get a lot of money, like a 1,000 bucks every game,” Max said. However, he has a back-up plan, should soccer fall through for him: He wants to be a shoe-maker so he can design soccer shoes.
For now he’ll have to stick with getting his shoes on. His mom is working to get all three boys ready for their games. Uniforms need to be changed into. Shoes, snacks and jackets, in case it rains, all still need to be loaded in the van.
“It’s a lot, but if we weren’t doing this we’d be doing something else. And why not this?” Janet asked. “This is great. They love it and they get a lot of satisfaction out of it. They feel good about themselves. They contribute to their team.”
Their games are just a few of the 711 games that are being played over the eight-week season. Linda Burke, director of the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association, estimates that more than 2,000 kids are playing this season, making FYSA the largest youth organization around. With approximately 200 teams playing, Burke said their efforts depend almost entirely on volunteers like Janet Schaefer.
The family has recently returned from Minnesota and the Schwan’s USA Cup, where both Henry and Rocky played. Henry’s team, the Phoenix 96, finished second. Rocky’s team, the Phoenix 99, won three games, but was defeated in the quarterfinals. Now the family is wrapping up the summer season and preparing for the Alaska State Cup.
Even though the summer is winding down, the family will continue to live the soccer lifestyle, playing indoors throughout the winter, biding their time until the grass is green again.
Contact News-Miner intern Heather Bryant at 459-7572.