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Let the games begin

Baldwin Eagles Soccer Club returns after year-long hiatus

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It’s time to play soccer again.

More than 100 children and their parents, coaches and trainers made their way to the fields at Baldwin Harbor Town Park on the windy morning of May 1 for a Baldwin Eagles Soccer Club practice.

The club restarted its spring and fall seasons after the Covid-19 pandemic put a pause on its operations. After a year-long hiatus, the spring season began on April 17.

Club members — local students between pre-kindergarten and fifth grade — play every Saturday morning. And while they used to play on the Lenox Elementary School field, a 30-year tradition, this year they’re playing in the park.

Bob Gandley, the club’s treasurer and assistant president, who has volunteered with the club for about three decades, said the switch happened because the park allows for more space to social distance and to avoid potential conflicts with Baldwin School District teams.

The club’s travel team, which is much smaller, had not stopped play. The intramural team, on the other hand, is where students learn how to play the game and have fun. Professional trainers work with the children — who are divided into three age groups — every week.

While the boys’ and girls’ teams typically play separately, they are combined this season because membership is lower than usual.

Typically, Gandley explained, fliers would be put up all around the schools, and the district would help the club advertise. Since that did not happen this year, Gandley, who has handled registration for the past 15 years, said he registered students using the internet and social media.

Registration began in February, and about 110 children have since since signed up. On a normal year, the club welcomes around 135 kids for the intramural division.

“So it’s actually not too bad, considering,” Gandley said. “Plus, everybody wanted to get out of the house. And everybody’s been very cooperative about wearing a mask and doing the right thing. We’ve had no problems whatsoever so far.”

Besides social distancing and wearing masks, the club has implemented safety protocols, including setting up a sanitization station with disinfectant products. Members follow guidelines from the state and the Long Island Junior Soccer League.

Gandley said he and the other volunteers are working towards slowly getting back to a more normal lifestyle.

“It just seems like the parents are really happy that we’re back, even though our numbers are a little down,” said Bob Walters, the club’s president, as children and coaches shouted in the background and whistles blew.

Walters was inducted into the Long Island Junior Soccer League Hall of Fame two years ago, and last year, Gandley was named Volunteer of the Year.

“It feels really exciting just to have the kids back out,” said Wale Adegbenle, a volunteer coach for about eight years, whose children play on the team. He said it’s been tough since the young people have lacked socialization while they were not playing for a year, but to be back is “a great moment.”

Additionally, Laurie and Stephanie O’Brien, of O’Brien Inc. Photography, took portraits of the players on the sidelines.