LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - With the World up only weeks away from kicking off in Russia, it is only fitting that footbol is being played on the turf of John outlaw Field.
"We have been fighting to get this for a long time," Lufkin soccer coach David McPherson said. "This is big to be able to get these kids for a bit and work with them so they know what to expect at the high school level."
The two fields at Lufkin High School have become home to middle school athletes competing in the first middle school soccer league in the Pineywoods. Lufkin has joined up with Hudson ISD and Nacogdoches ISD to provide a middle school soccer program ,to kids in the area. It is something the students have been asking for.
"I was a little jealous," eighth grader Estevan Gurerro said. "I always wanted to have a soccer team but they didn't and now we do so I am excited to play."
Some of the players have even been asking for the program since they were too young to play for the middle school.
"Even when my brother was in middle school, i always said they should have one," seventh grader Rachel Bonnin said. "Now that they have one and I can play it is really fun because i get to hang out with my friends."
The goal of the league is to improve the high school programs in Lufkin, Hudson and Nacogdoches.
"We have been playing schools in Houston in district and they have these programs," Lufkin girls soccer coach Juan Encarnacion said. "When we get to the second round we are playing teams from Dallas. This will help us compete against those teams.
Soccer is expanding. It has a world wide audience so the growth in East Texas should be expected. Three years ago, Lufkin brought home the 5A state championship Since then soccer has been on the rise in participation.
"Everybody gets excited about that and that is not the last one we plan on winning," McPherson said. "This right here, this is the first step at getting back to that level. When we first had tryouts for the kids coming to high school we had 10-12 kids and now we have 50 kids trying out for that many spots."
Add Nacogdoches native Clint Dempsey being one of the faces of US soccer, two MLS teams in Texas and a professional women's team in Houston and you have the perfect storm for growth in the sport.
"We see that with more teams playing in the MLS," Encarnacion said. "This is something that is going to keep growing in the future. Hopefully we can see another one of our own playing at the professional level as well."
Lufkin, Hudson and Nacogdoches middle school soccer teams play Thursday night in Hudson starting at 5 pm.