For one local nonprofit, the Great Fish Challenge has been a key factor into bringing soccer to hundreds of community members.
The Flathead Rapids, a summer recreation and competitive soccer program serving more than 1,200 players of all ages in the Valley, is again one of the 50 nonprofits participating in the Whitefish Community Foundation’s challenge, which runs until Sept. 14.
Board member Laurie Barron and Treasurer Mark Galbraith recently sat down with the Pilot on a dewy morning out at Smith Fields.
The Rapids program has been around since 2011, Galbraith said, and is unique in the variety of athletes it services.
“One of the cool things that’s really cool about the Rapids is that we really seriously have something for every age level and every ability or desire. You may be a standout player but you just don’t want to play at that competitive level, or maybe you don’t have that skill but you want to work toward that competitive level. And then we have people who just want to play for fun. There’s something for everyone, and the key is to keep that available for everyone in our community,” he said.
An important part of keeping soccer accessible has been volunteer work within the Rapids and scholarships for players who might want to get involved but can’t afford to.
“We don’t want a situation where any kid in our valley can’t choose to be a part of that, because they don’t have the finances,” Barron said. “We’re really proud of the Rapids for having a scholarship program where families who need to can apply for a scholarship, and we have yet to turn a player away.”
The Rapids also offer a variety of different leagues and programs throughout the year, including multiple camps in the spring, summer and fall, as well as indoor training in the winter.
Fundraising through the Great Fish has been a big part of bringing soccer to more kids in the Valley, Galbraith noted.
“Because of the money that we were able to raise last year from the Great Fish, we were able to take a chance and expand that program,” he said. “In 2017, we had 35 players in the spring recreation program. When we expanded, the Great Fish money allowed us to take that chance and we increased registration to 135 players.”
This year the Rapids hope to raise $30,000 through the challenge, which they say would cover normal program costs and registration. They also hope to start accumulating funds to build new storage buildings at Smith Fields and replace older equipment.
“We have many storage buildings all of the place, one which blew away in the winter time, so we’re going to need a more permanent building for all of the equipment,” Galbraith said. “There’s a lot of equipment required, so eventually we’re going to need a building, eventually we’re going to need new equipment. We need to keep up to date on all the equipment so the kids have a good and safe experience.”
Barron added that reaching the $30,000 fundraising goal would allow the Rapids to keep going without increasing registration costs.
“That’s approximately what we lose for the most part in running our programs,” she said. “Any money we raise over and above that we’re going to put toward the building fund, so we can start establishing and saving for that.”
Galbraith said he’s happy to keep offering soccer to the Valley, and noted there’s still something special about kicking around a ball in today’s increasingly-complex world.
“The key component, especially in today’s technical world, is that we still believe that a ball and a piece of grass can provide more entertainment than your kid can possibly imagine,” he said. “That’s all it takes, and that’s one of the great things about soccer — the simplicity.”