Volunteers make youth sports go. They get to the fields early. They set up. They make the schedules. They flip burgers. They stay late, then wake up and do it all again.
They do all of it with little fanfare, which is why it’s nice when they get a little recognition. Three of Warwick’s unsung heroes got their day in the sun earlier this year at Soccer Rhode Island’s annual awards ceremony.
Longtime Warwick Fire Fighters Soccer president Doyle Byrd was inducted into Soccer RI’s Hall of Fame, while Mark Laurie of Warwick Fire Fighters and Marc Comtois of the Warwick Soccer Association received special recognition awards.
For all three, the awards recognized years of hard work – and similar stories. All three got involved when their children signed up for soccer.
They never left.
“I stay on because I’ve got a lot of love and respect for the club,” said Byrd, who has been involved with Fire Fighters Soccer for 15 years and has been the president for nine. “I enjoy doing it.”
Byrd’s children are now in college, but his dedication to the club never wavered. In addition to his administrative duties as president, he continues to coach. With soccer being a year-round sport, that means he’s always on a field, whether it’s indoors or outdoors.
He spent his winter coaching three separate indoor teams.
“The coaching is lots of fun,” he said. “The administrative stuff takes a lot of time but it’s worth it. It’s always fun to go to the field and see the little kids smiling.”
Under Byrd’s watch, WFFSC has grown into the largest soccer club in the state, with more than 1,000 kids in the spring and fall programs. Indoor soccer has been booming as well, with more than 400 kids participating this winter. The club also sponsors pickup games in the summer and annually hands out scholarships to former players who are bound for college.
Byrd has also wrestled with airport expansion that threatened the fields his club played on, and has done everything he can to make sure the club is well-positioned for the future.
True to the unsung hero role, Byrd gives the credit for WFFSC’s success to others, including Laurie, who was one of nine recipients of the Adult Special Recognition Awards.
Laurie’s children grew up in the club and went on to star at Warwick Vets. Laurie stayed on as a jack-of-all-trades and he still does it all.
“He’s a solid volunteer that people don’t see or appreciate,” Byrd said.
Laurie has been on the board for 20 years, and he serves as the referee coordinator, which might be the club’s toughest job. He contacts officials and hands out 150 to 200 assignments every week.
Laurie also takes care of the fields and cuts the grass at Winslow Park, a task that takes about eight hours per week.
“It’s a lot of work and effort,” Byrd said. “He deserves a lot of praise.”
Comtois also took home a special recognition award for his work with the Warwick Soccer Association. He’s been involved since 2004, in a variety of roles. He’s been president, vice president, board member, webmaster and scheduler for the recreation program.
“Like every volunteer, you start when your kids do and then you gradually start doing more and more,” Comtois said.
Comtois played high school soccer in Maine. When his daughters Abby and Mary started playing soccer, he found himself volunteering to coach. Soon enough, he was hooked.
“I didn’t have any coaching experience,” Comtois said. “I didn’t think it was anything I’d do, but I started to help and then it snowballed from there.”
Abby and Mary still play soccer, and Comtois is still involved. While his term on the board ended in January, he isn’t going anywhere.
“I’d like to stay with it,” he said. “I really like coaching the kids, especially the younger ones. It’s been a very positive experience. You stand on the shoulders of the people who came before you and we’ve had a lot of great people in the organization. I can’t thank them enough.”
It’s said that every little kid in America plays soccer now. People like Byrd, Laurie and Comtois have made that possible for countless kids in Warwick.
We can’t thank them enough, either.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.