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10 seasons and still kicking

Harrison Ruff, 4, practices throwing the ball during a ROAR Sports practice at Westminster Catawba Christian School on Monday. ROAR will celebrate its 10th season on Friday night.
Harrison Ruff, 4, practices throwing the ball during a ROAR Sports practice at Westminster Catawba Christian School on Monday. ROAR will celebrate its 10th season on Friday night.

Late in the summer of 1998, Dick Spatola was nervously getting ready to begin a youth soccer league.

ROAR Sports was an idea Spatola implemented as director of missions at Westminster Presbyterian Church. He hoped for enough participation to field four teams for youth soccer. He needed 40 to 50 players. More than 150 signed up.

Youth basketball followed for the winter season. In the spring, ROAR offered youth baseball and softball. ROAR, an acronym for "Rock Hill outreach and recreation," has grown steadily since. It now offers youth and adult volleyball, basketball for ages 36 and older, youth flag football, youth cheerleading and 10 camps in the summer.

On Friday night, ROAR will celebrate its 10th season, which will include the dedication of new soccer fields, a hot dog dinner and a scrimmage game featuring several members of the Charlotte Eagles Soccer Club.

Since its start, ROAR has grown far more than expected.

"Right from the beginning, we've been thankful and surprised by the turnout," Spatola said. "Sports is a dominating factor in our culture. Unfortunately, it can send out many negative messages.

"We want to do sports differently. We want every kid to feel they are of equal value. Our coaches don't yell, they encourage. They encourage their own players as well as the opponents. This is a league of encouragement."

The formula has won the approval of kids and parents, and ROAR continues to grow, with an estimated 1,500 families participating in the leagues.

With the growth came the need for a full-time sports director, a position Brian Jones has held since Jan. 1, 2004.

Jones was a physical education major at Winthrop University and began attending church at Westminster while a student. After graduation, he became athletic director at Fort Mill Middle School and coached three sports.

Jones recalled how he made Spatola aware of his desire to lead ROAR.

"I told Dick I wanted his job," Jones said. "He thought the church might be a few years away from making that commitment. But he offered me the job six months later."

Jones said the purpose of ROAR is to assist the community and provide quality sports leagues for anyone interested. He has two part-time employees and a slew of volunteers who make it all come together.

"Of course, we'd love to have a large staff but we try to keep the fees low to allow everyone to participate. We try to be good stewards," Jones said.

This year, ROAR is fielding 34 soccer teams with 360 players from pre-kindergarten to the seventh grade.

The increase in participation put a burden on facilities. For more than a year, the church looked for land where it could add two soccer fields. Hoping for 20 to 30 acres, the church settled on a 212-acre plot off India Hook Road near the Lake Wylie dam.

They have two new irrigated fields as well as nature trails that wind through the woods toward the lake.

"When we became aware of this property, we knew this would be more than just for ROAR," Spatola said. "We can serve our entire church family in a number of different ways."

For more information on ROAR Sports, contact Brian Jones at 366-7627, or visit the Web site at www.roarsports.org.

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