RUSKIN – A new soccer program in the community is dedicated to ensuring that kids have a ball.
Soccer Gemz launched its first South Shore program at Northside Baptist Church, 1301 S. U.S. 41, Ruskin, a few weeks ago and has already scored points with both children and parents.
“We had 33 kids sign up for this first seven-week session, including 16 in our mommy/daddy-and-me class,” said Jerome Smalls, Soccer Gemz director of operations. “And we already have sign-ups for our next session, which begins May 17.”
Smalls attributes the instant success of the South Shore program to Soccer Gemz’ mission of teaching kids soccer skills by putting an emphasis on fun.
Smalls and his wife, Marchele, a former University of Tennessee soccer player, launched Soccer Gemz in the Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area two years ago after introducing their 5-year-old daughter to the game.
“My daughter loved the practices but didn’t enjoy the competition of playing games against other children,” said Small. “It was just too intense. So we came up with the idea of offering a program that would teach soccer skills in a fun, noncompetitive environment.”
In addition to its one-hour program for kids ages 3 to 8, Soccer Gemz offers Tampa Bay’s only program for parents and children ages 18 months to 2 years old, said Smalls.
“The environment is family first,” he said. “Parents are able to come out and relax or participate in games with their children without the stress of aggressive competition.”
The program’s curriculum is designed to build coordination and agility as well as help children develop social skills, said Smalls.
“In addition to playing creative games, we teach them fundamental soccer skills and prepare them to go on into a more competitive program,” he said.
The casual environment proved a hit in the Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area, which now has 103 children in its program.
“Our organization has grown tremendously so we decided it was time to expand,” said Smalls, who has a master’s degree in business administration. “We chose the South Shore area because we had so many families traveling from Apollo Beach and Ruskin for our program in Lutz. And we were fortunate to find Northside Baptist Church, which has a large soccer field.”
Smalls said all Soccer Gemz coaches undergo background checks and receive training with his wife, the program director, before joining the children on the soccer fields.
“It’s a fun program,” Smalls said. “The kids develop skills while making new friends.”
Classes are held each Saturday at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.
Children ages 3 to 8 spend 40 minutes playing creative games. The final 20 minutes of the session are devoted to playing soccer against one another in a relaxed environment.
“There’s no score keeping, though,” Smalls said.
The mommy/daddy-and-me class is 45 minutes long and has proven to be Soccer Gemz’ most popular offering.
“That’s our niche,” Smalls said.
At the end of every seven-week program, Soccer Gemz hosts a family fun day, which includes a bounce house, face painting, pizza and ice cream.
“We’re also very committed to the communities we serve,” Smalls said. “We’ve hosted food drives and charity runs in the Lutz area, and plan to do the same in Ruskin. We pride ourselves on being invested in the community.”
Registration is now underway for the May 17 session. The cost is $105 for the mommy-and-me program, $115 for kids ages 3 to 5 and $125 for ages 6 to 8.
Registration is available online at soccergemz.com or by calling (813) 421-5203.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance write who can be reached at [email protected]