It's been a year since Soccer Gemz set out to level the playing field for local youngsters, and they're still having a ball.
And as word has gotten out about the noncompetitive program, more and more business has rolled in.
"I must say things are steadily improving," director of operations Jerome Smalls said. "We receive on average about 10 to 15 calls a day asking about our programs from new parents."
The program, which draws players ages 18 months to 8 years from Lutz, Land O’ Lakes, New Tampa, Carrollwood and beyond, promotes fun first and foremost.
Though the company was formed in January 2012, the first session wasn't held until June, making their progress even more remarkable in the short time since.
Social media, networking and good ol' word of mouth has helped the Lutz-based company grow the business, Smalls said.
"We owe so much to our customers," he said. "They are the ones really spreading the word."
Smalls and his wife, Marchele, founded Soccer Gemz after they saw a lot of kids standing around waiting for their turn in other sports programs.
So Marchele, a former University of Tennesee soccer player, designed a “solid basics” curriculum that incorporated a variety of games and activities to keep every child moving and having fun the entire time, he said.
To maintain a low ratio of players to instructors, each group is capped at 10 players.
And those instructors are top-notch, Smalls said, which is why he feels they have been so successful in filling the 7-week sessions with both new and returning players.
"Bringing those instructors on board who translate Soccer Gemz's vision to the field allowed us to add even more fun games and activities to teach the fundamentals of soccer," Smalls said.
Parents can always count on three things, he said: Each child will have his or her own ball to prevent idle time, each session will feature a structured plan to keep their child constantly engaged, and there will always be a last-day party to celebrate the kids' success with medals, a bounce house, face painting, pizza and ice cream.
"Parents can also expect a safe and friendly environment for the whole family," he said.
In addition to the program held Saturdays at First Baptist Church of Lutz, Soccer Gemz recently was approved to provide an enrichment program for students at St. John Presbyterian Learning Center in South Tampa.
Soccer Gemz operates year-round on a 7-week cycle. For the first Spring session beginning Feb. 16, the 10 a.m. session is full, but a 9 a.m. and an 11 a.m. session have been added so no one has to miss out on the fun, Smalls said.
The following session begins April 20. Register online or call 813-421-5203.
See also: Soccer Gemz Scores With Focus on Fun