Dick Schultz is proud that some refer to him as the father of Fort Atkinson youth soccer.
In 1979, Schultz was the chairman of Fort Atkinson’s Parks and Recreation Board. The city had two youth football programs at the time when Schultz decided Fort needed some else.
“The park director asked, ‘what else are we going to?’” Schultz said. “I said, ‘how about soccer?’”
Schultz volunteered to coach despite having no experience with the sport, aside from high school gym classes. So, he drove to a Janesville bookstore to buy a book on soccer to read up on the rules.
According to Schultz, the youth soccer program took off instantly, which officially became an association (FAYSA) some six years later and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. Before 2020, though, the program had never seen a more challenging season.
Fort Atkinson Youth Soccer officially canceled its spring season in April, according to FAYSA President Andy Adelmeyer.
As of now, there is a plan to have a fall season, although Adelmeyer noted things can change. Worldwide pandemics aside, Adelmeyer agrees with Schultz and believes the program is currently in a good spot.
Fort Atkinson was the first city in the area to have a youth program, according to Schultz. The soccer program also helped spring Fort Atkinson to be one of the first local high schools to have soccer teams.
Watertown’s youth soccer program was started around the same time and Jefferson’s came about in the 1980s, though the recreation department wasn’t certain the exact year it began. For context, neighboring Janesville didn’t have a youth soccer program in earnest until the early 1990s.
In 1985, Fort Atkinson High School began their girls and boys soccer teams, becoming the first school in Jefferson County to do so.
Schultz believes the youth program he helped start in 1979 was a big part of the high school’s pioneering of the sport in the area.
“A lot of kids wanted to keep playing soccer, they enjoyed it,” Schultz said. “Of course once they transitioned to high school there was no team at the time.”
Although Schultz is no longer with the program, he likes the direction it’s at now.
“There are more people involved now,” Schultz said. “They’ve done a good job.”
And there may be no more challenging year for the program than what 2020 has, and will bring.
“If we take out the pandemic, it’s a very strong organization,” Adelmeyer said, who became president in October of 2019.
“We have a wonderful group of coaches that are consistently trying to do better and improve themselves,” he added. “The community is very supportive of soccer.
“Minus this issue we’re dealing with right now, we were feeling really good about the support.”
The program just had its first-ever tier-one team, which is the highest tier of play at the youth level in Wisconsin.
“Every year we’re getting a little bit better,” Adelmeyer said. “Kids are loving it. Having the season canceled was really disappointing for a lot of us on the leadership level. We were feeling really good coming off a wonderful fall season.”
Rudy Kessler is the traveling commissioner for the FAYSA and has been involved with the association for 17 years. According to Kessler, the number of traveling teams have grown throughout the years, which is now at 11.
Adelmeyer said there is potential for dropped numbers in the coming season, but that can be expected for youth sports across the board.
“We are thinking about ways we can bring numbers up, especially with the younger ones,” Kessler said.
A handful years ago Fort Atkinson youth programs were moved from competing in the state line league to MAYSA (Madison Area Youth Soccer Association).
Madison produces it’s fair share of soccer talent, with nearby Oregon becoming one of the premier soccer powers in the state. Fort Atkinson does lose some strong youth players to Madison area teams, but Adelmeyer is fine with that.
“We fully encourage any players that want to try out the bigger clubs to go and do that,” Adelmeyer said. “Because it’s going to benefit the community as a whole. Some of those kids are now playing on the high school team at a high competitive level.”
The Fort Atkinson High School boys team went 5-9-1 this season, while the girls finished 13-9 and lost to eventual Division 2 state champion Oregon in the regional final last year.
“The program has grown and continues to grow,” Schultz said. “The high school program is fairly strong. It’s all doing well.”