Schaumburg Park District Athletics: Reshaping the Future of Soccer

The+multiple+turf+soccer+fields+and+the+well-maintained+softball+fields+at+Schaumburg%27s+largest+sports+complex%3A+Olympic+Park.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+the+Schaumburg+Park+District%29

The multiple turf soccer fields and the well-maintained softball fields at Schaumburg's largest sports complex: Olympic Park. (Photo courtesy of the Schaumburg Park District)

SCHAUMBURG- Calling all soccer players! Are you bored now that your competitive season is over? Are travel leagues too expensive or non-inclusive of your age range? Is it still too cold to kick a ball around outside?

As a footballer myself, and not the American kind, I can answer that last question with an “Absolutely!”. But where can we go to stay in futból form?

The Schaumburg Park District has the answer! An entire indoor sports complex, complete with 2 turf fields and lots of leagues for all ages, SPD is definitely the place to go. In fact, Schaumburg has one of the best locations for soccer leagues in the state throughout the other seasons as well: Olympic Park. Olympic Park has a wide variety of leagues ranging from all skill levels and genders for their adult leagues.

I know what you are thinking “Adult leagues get too edgy and often lead to fights which takes the fun out of the games”. I’m here to tell you that this is not the case with SPD soccer. In fact, this used to be the case with their leagues this past summer, but the hardworking league officials put an end to such corruption. I sat down with Derek Dvorak, the Manager of Athletics and Olympic Park and he told me all about their efforts to clean up their leagues and make them enjoyable once more.

Dvorak has been with the Schaumburg Park District for 5 years. Although he has been under the title of Manager of Athletics and Olympic Park for only 1 year, he is well known in the community. He served as the Assistant Manager of the Sports Center for 3 years, and also the Athletic Supervisor for another year prior to that. He has been involved in park district and community athletics since 2007 when he started his career. Before he called Schaumburg his home, he served on the Urbana Park District as well as the Lombard Park District.

“Most park districts do mostly youth and might have some adult leagues depending on the interest level for their particular park district, but Schaumburg is unique because the Schaumburg Athletic Association is a parent run volunteer organization that handles pretty much all of the youth leagues in Schaumburg. Schaumburg Park District focuses on the adult leagues.”

Dvorak oversees the youth indoor travel soccer league as well as all of the indoor and outdoor adult leagues. The youth indoor league he runs starts in early November and ends in March. The women’s indoor league actually runs year-round and is usually comprised of 7-9 teams. The men’s indoor league typically only spans from the fall through the end of winter. Dvorak also oversees the small outdoor Spring session, the large Summer session that has anywhere between 35-45 teams, as well as the Fall session that is usually comprised of 25-35 teams.

What makes these leagues so ideal for a Harper student?

Dvorak highlighted that most of the teams in each soccer league are comprised of college students. Some players are escaping the stress of college soccer and want to just enjoy the sport, while others might not be college athletes, but are still eager to play the sport they love or even try soccer for the first time.

“Some people see sports as kind of a kid thing. Once they graduate high school they are done playing because very few people are skilled enough to play in college, but in these types of leagues, you can still play competitive soccer. It’s a great way to stay involved in sports, as well as do something social with your friends at least one night a week, and get good exercise.”

Schaumburg is a pretty big town. Not very many park districts offer soccer, and if they do, its smaller and the competition level is all over the place. Schaumburg is big enough to tier the levels so that everyone can have a evenly matched, yet still competitive experience.

The basic soccer leagues at the park district cost about $800 per team for 8-12 games depending on the season. This number is broken down amongst the players on the team, so the more players you can enlist, the cheaper the entry fee becomes for each individual player.

The Schaumburg Park District has a range of other opportunities for college aged students as well. The soccer leagues create many job openings available for Harper students. Field Supervisors are needed for the league, general staff including front desk positions and rental setups, and especially referees.

Unlike some of the other positions, the road to becoming a referee is not as simple. As a certified US Soccer Referee since 2014 myself, I know that you have to pass a background check, take a weekend class and a test to become a referee. Despite the many hoops that one must jump through to officiate games, the nice part is that you can pick your own schedule of games and there is always a shortage of referees, so there are always games available. front desk, rental setups.

While every great league has their great job opportunities and other great attributes, no league is immune to problems.

“It was happening more than it should have!”

Dvorak explained that there was a great deal of corruption during the 2019 Summer Soccer Season. Teams were scamming their own players, lots of teams were getting into fist fights, and even fans sitting on the team benches were joining in the violent altercations.

“There aren’t a whole lot of players that get too aggressive and into [the game], but a couple of hard fouls each way, tempers start to flare. Before you know it, you foul the wrong guy and he might come up swinging at you.”

Derek understands that sometimes players can get overly competitive and soccer can have its troublemakers just like any other contact sport. However, these issues expanded and multiplied throughout the leagues faster than ever before.

“The fighting happened a few times which was too many!”

The team that I played for was just as guilty of these offenses as any other team. In fact, my own team got to be so corrupt, that I left the team entirely and so did a few other players. The Young Boys FC, as they named themselves, started getting into fights with other teams. I was only a part of one or two of these altercations before the true malicious intentions started to unfold.

There would be friends of the players sitting on the benches and that mob of spectators did not help diffuse the situations. With no accountability, because they were not on the team rosters, they would jump onto the field in an attempt to defend their friend who might have been the guilty player in the first place.

“We have lost some pretty solid referees over the years. It’s an endless cycle: mediocre referees lead to guys [committing fouls] and getting away with it which leads to more incidents, which leads to more refs saying ‘screw it I’m not going to ref for this league anymore… It’s not worth the money.’”

The bench seemed like a revolving door because I could no longer tell who was actually playing on the team and who was just a spectator. The referees had a difficult time deciphering rosters as well which allowed my former team to give playing time to ringers in an attempt to win games. These ringers had not paid to play like other players, were not on the official roster and when they scored a goal or were given a yellow or red card, they would give the name of another player on the team so that they would not get kicked out completely.

Any red card is an automatic one game suspension, at the very least and any guest player that gets awarded a red card is suspended indefinitely! These ringers were exploiting loop-holes and taking advantage of other players that had actually paid to play.

Thus, another issue arose within the ranks. After some asking around, some of the players concerned with the cheating found out that amongst the players that did pay to play, each player had paid a different amount. It was no small discrepancy either. Prices ranged from $20-$100, but initially every player was under the impression that everyone was told to pay the same amount; a fair and even share.

The team’s captain was already known for not sharing the game times and locations or even which jerseys to wear to the games with the players, friends and families that would attend the games. This added information about league fee discrepancies and the afore mentioned cheating came as no surprise to some of the players who had already raised an eyebrow to the way the captain and his other core cheaters conducted themselves.

Dvorak highlighted yet another incident in which he emailed back and forth with another captain about a player allegedly spitting on another player and then throwing a punch. Yet another big brawl ensued. The captain sent photos of the scratches and welts on his player and argued that the attacker even did a spartan kick! Then, there was an allegation that something racial was said and 4 or 5 guys went back after that player and jumped him. Derek knew that something had to be done to put a stop to this kind of behavior.

“What can I do as a league administrator to curve the behavior? It’s a reputation thing.”

Derek sat down at his weekly manager meeting with some ideas for new rules. Feedback from referee assignors, players, and captains always helps too. Derek says he is an open book and loves to receive suggestions on how he can make his leagues better. You don’t want to be known as a violent league because that is a hard narrative to change once the word spreads. In turn, Dvorak came to the table with two rules that would drastically change the league for the better!

The first rule he planned on implementing was an ID and check-in rule. Starting in the Fall, players will have to check-in with the field supervisor with their ID in order to play in the game. Unless they are one of the 2 guest players that a team is allowed to have, maximum, they must be on the roster in order to step out onto the field.

“I was pretty concerned at first, but I felt it was the best thing to do for the league. It’s about having that accountability so players don’t play like jerks. [After surrendering their ID] They might think twice before doing something stupid.”

The second rule that Dvorak and the Schaumburg Park District planned on implementing was the new red card rules. Many captains including my own had been caught giving out the wrong names for players when they were awarded a red card in an effort to keep some of their best players from being removed from the next week’s game. There would be different referees, so even if IDs were checked there could be ways around the suspension. However, with the new rule implicated, any captain that is caught lying about the carded player’s name will also have to serve a suspension as well.

“What is motivating [the captains] to tell the truth?”

Now, with the added rules, captains caught cheating the ID system like so will also be awarded a suspension as well and that forces the whole team to be down 2 players rather than just the 1.

Other rules are already in place and just going to be enforced better by having more field supervisors and more attentive referees.

One rule will enforce that only players on the roster will be allowed to sit on the benches. Any friends or family can sit in the bleachers across the field with the rest of the fans.

“It’s important to always think of ways to improve your leagues. Just because you have run the leagues for a while doesn’t mean you can get complacent.”

The SPD Manager of Athletics also decided to gradually take these rules into effect for the Fall season as well so that captains and players would have enough time to prepare and adapt to the rule changes. These new rules did not go fully into effect until about the 6th week of games.

Fall was a good time to implement these rules especially when the more teams come back in the summer. It is easier to manage and adapt these rules in the Fall when there are fewer teams, so that the league can perfect the rules come Summertime.

“You don’t want newer teams to think of your league as a bad league, but you also want to show them that you are adamant about controlling the rules. Their IDs were not taken, so there’s no punishment for them. They have no accountability.”

There are now a few teams on Derek’s radar. Not all of them are violent, some are just complainers. Others tend to cheat and add ringers. If it got to be too many people on the team causing problems Schaumburg Park District would kick that team out. If it’s only a few players then they have a talk with those players so that the entire team is not penalized because of just a few players.

I asked Derek what his thoughts were on the results of the newly added rules and their impact on the league. He had one clear-cut answer for me:

“Lots of positive feedback. It created more jobs for administrative positions. [It was] nothing like the problems that we were having in the summer”

Moving forward, Dvorak looks to build upon what he and many others have helped create here in Schaumburg. Soccer is still a popular sport. It’s not growing a ton but it’s still relevant. The SPD leagues might move towards defining the leagues by age as well as skill level. Dvorak says it’s not the right time to move in that direction, because they have teams in which a dad and a son or a mother and daughter are playing together, but it is a possible way to better the league in the future once league officials can work out all the details.

“[Incidents] are going to happen where [players] get thrown out of games for yelling at the referees and again, that’s not okay either, but the violence- the physical violence is really what I have an issue with. The two that I really have an issue with are physical violence and anything racial derogatory or homophobic.”

Schaumburg Park District’s soccer leagues are in good hands with Athletic Manager Derek Dvorak, who understands that there will always be issues and challenges with each and every season. He continues to stay vigilant and hardworking to preserve the reputation of the league, which he stresses as a main part of his job.

“We have some inherent advantages being a turf facility. Often times once you build it up its just about maintaining it, but, once again, you can’t get complacent, and you have to maintain that reputation because being this big [of a league], and once that word gets out that you’re a bad league, it’s hard to reverse that.”