Five-year-old Anna D'Ercole teeters down the soccer field at Youth Sports Inc. wearing the baggy and sagging jersey of her older sister, Alex.
Carefree and laughing, not always sure of the real direction or point of the game, Anna and her friends are there to have fun.
Outfitted to emulate their older siblings on the field, these pint-sized soccer players are only beginning to learn the value of the game.
Much like Anna and her teammates, the city of Lawrence is beginning to recognize the importance of the game. Long overshadowed by other sports such as baseball, basketball and football, many local soccer organizers and participants believe that Lawrence is still coming into its own appreciation of the game.
"Soccer is still pretty low on the totem poll in terms of cultural relevance," Gunar Harmon, Kaw Valley Soccer Assn. office administrator, said. "You've got your three big sports: football, baseball and basketball, then you toss in big college sports and even NASCAR and soccer becomes a blip on the radar."
Cindy D'Ercole, Anna and Alex's mother, said soccer appreciation didn't extend much beyond Saturdays at YSI.
"You go to the fields on Saturday and you can't believe all the cars there," D'Ercole said. "I think there are so many people and parents that work on it, it would be nice if the community made an investment that recognizes the investment all those children give on the soccer fields."
It isn't a small minority that plays soccer in Lawrence. Harmon said that 1,300 players currently play in KVSA soccer teams. But even numbers as large as those take a hit.
Harmon said the league had players drop each year because the lure of other activities was often too much to overcome.
Despite the challenges to the game, Harmon said soccer offered a positive outlet that many other sports do not.
"Soccer involves different sizes and body types," Harmon said. "You can play soccer at a walking speed or a full sprint. You can have modest competitiors and more serious players in each game. We maintain the opportunity for everyone to play."
D'Ercole's daughters have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Alex began playing when she was 4 years old and currently plays on a U12 KVSA club team. Anna recently began playing for a U6 team.
D'Ercole said the ease and accessibility of soccer sold her on the sport. And that accessibility led her to get her daughters involved at a young age.
"They started playing because it is one of those few sports that young children can actually play in," D'Ercole said. "They play with classmates and friends so it is fun for them and it doesn't take a lot of equipment. It is just a really simple social instruction to team sports."
D'Ercole said she enjoyed that the opportunity is open to her daughters to play from the time they are young to their adult lives. She also appreciated the aspect that the sport seems to welcome everyone.
Harmon said more people needed to be welcomed into the sport.
He said he hoped to increase soccer awareness in Lawrence to help gain more support for the sport. He said soccer needs more of an "overt consciousness" in the city.
"Anyone would tell you that kids don't go outside and play much anymore," Harmon said. "It is harder to find moments for kids to play games that are not an adult led activity. Hopefully over time kids will discover the opportunity to go out and play a game of soccer as part of our culture."