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Pumas pass knowledge to younger players
The Kitsap Pumas Soccer team is working to make soccer a bigger part of the Kitsap Peninsula by spreading the word through summer soccer classes and community involvement.
This past week, team members and coaches came to Bainbridge Island to teach youngsters the fundamentals of the game. Starting Monday, they offered sessions that gave about 50 young players the chance to learn from professionals.
“We are working really hard to make sure the community knows who we are,” said Ben Pecora, the team’s executive director and a resident of Bainbridge.
The team, which plays its home games in Bremerton, drew the attention of local government during their week-long activity on the island. City Council members Debbie Vancil and Bill Knoblauch read a proclamation at Monday’s class announcing Aug. 24 as Kitsap Pumas Day.
One week of classes and their own day, however, are only the beginning for the Pumas. Pecora said the team plans to start a year-round soccer academy, which would train the top players in the area and help build local talent.
Pumas goalie Dustyn Brim, who was one of the players on hand this week, said the new academy and classes will help bring a new diversity to Kitsap soccer.
“We are trying to get kids interested and show them a new way to play the game by having them study with players from all over the world,” Brim said.
Having players like Brim working in the community helps expose the team to a wider audience. It also gives young fans the chance to learn from their favorite players.
“We do not want the Pumas to be just a team,” Assistant Coach James Ritchie said.
Ritchie said the team is committed to helping teach the sport, as well as playing it. By building a pool of local talent, the team is giving back to the community and helping teach the next generation of Puma players.
This fits with the history of the Pumas and their plans for the future.
The team was created 11 months ago but, if you follow their lineage, they were originally the Seattle Sounders. Essentially, the team dissolved when Major League Soccer came to Seattle last year. Reinvented as the Pumas, the team moved from playing in Division 1 to Division 2 almost overnight. Travel costs forced the Pumas out of Division 2, so they moved to the Premiere Development League.
The team then moved to Kitsap and Pecora believes the team will eventually make it back to Division 1. They are already well on their way to the top. This past season they were the Western Conference Northwest Division champions and they are ranked third out of the 68 U.S. teams in their league. They are currently working to recruit new players and coaches for next season.
“Right now we are getting inquiries from all over the planet – from coaches and players who want to be part of the team,” Pecora said.
When all that talent is not training or playing, they will be teaching. Pecora said he wants to cultivate as many of the talented local players as possible.
“We want every kid in Kitsap that is even remotely interested in the sport to come out and play,” Pecora said.
By becoming more involved in the community, Pecora hopes to spread the Pumas’ fan base and generate more interest in the team. More fans mean more ticket sales and more sponsorship for the team. Aside from its own economic incentive, the team hopes to be a boon for the surrounding area.
“We are a little economic engine that also entails things like economic development and community pride,” Pecora said.
The team plans to play more high-profile matches and exhibition games against professional teams in the coming year.
Their aspirations to make it to the top have not broken the bond the team has with residents. Pecora said the team is heavily invested in the Bainbridge community an d Kitsap County.
“I think we have the best fans in the league,” he said.
Without the support of local fans and businesses, Pecora said, the Pumas would not be able to continue. This makes their commitment to the community especially strong, he said.