PERRY HALL — Since its inception in summer 2012, Crab Kickers, a local recreational soccer program that offers introductory classes for 2-12 year olds, has shown a continued rise in growth, by expanding into more areas and engaging more youth. Founded in Dundalk by longtime coach Patrick Letts, the program offered only two classes in its first season, and now it offers over 100 classes every season across five locations, including in one of its most popular locations – Perry Hall.

Each class meets for one hour per week for eight weeks, and the child chooses a time slot for his/her age group that works with his/her schedule. In recent years, the program has seen such a steep increase in number, that it has had to limit how many people can sign up, so coaches are able to give each child a sufficient amount of attention, according to program director Henry Medrano.

In Perry Hall, nearly all of the reserved slots, particularly in the fall and spring, sell out every year, and spots for the weeklong summer camps also fill up quick, Medrano said. Even amid coronavirus-related restrictions, Crab Kickers still sustained a high level of engagement throughout the year.

In view of this rapid growth, Medrano hopes that in a few years the program will have its own facilities to practice indoors and outdoors at any time, instead of having to first acquire permission to use a space at a school or other location. It has already held some fundraising events to start saving, he said.

In the future, Medrano added, the program is also looking to work with childcare and after-school programs to improve involvement.

“If Crab Kickers can do its part to get more kids involved in soccer, then that will create a larger talent pool to hopefully improve the national program,” he said. “Maybe one day, we will have a Crab Kicker playing in the World Cup.”

Although many of the children who join Crab Kickers often let go of it at an older age out of lack of interest or to play another sport, about 20% of them go on to play at a club level, according to Medrano. The program sees two types of players: those who want to take competition to the next level and those who just want to have a kick with friends for fun.

For players willing to commit to the money and time of club soccer, Crab Kickers prepares them to move up. Each coach is required to complete careful screening and an in-house training course, and has experience in soccer or working with children.

“We want to offer something as affordable as possible, and still have families get the same bang for their buck that they would from other youth development programs,” Medrano said.

In 2017, Crab Kickers even started partnering with a Kingsville-based youth soccer club called Old Line Soccer Academy to give children the opportunity to play at a higher level and help transition them into more competitive team play. When Crab Kickers players reach age 7, they can register for Old Line for their first two years without having to try out, and from August to May, Old Line teams compete against other area talent and enter into regional and state tournaments.

For children not interested in competitive soccer, Crab Kickers also tries to make soccer training as fun as possible, while assuring that every child learns important life skills from the program, according to Medrano.

In addition to the game of soccer, Crab Kickers teaches children discipline, sportsmanship and good listening skills. It also helps youth develop healthy habits and social skills that they can carry with them for the rest of their life, Medrano said.

“If a Crab Kickers player leaves the program knowing those values, then I feel like we have done our job,” he said. “Every kid learns to struggle through adversity and learn what it is like to win or lose, and they learn how to hold themselves accountable and – a phrase we often use – make sure they are their ‘own best coach.’”