Las Vegas Boys & Girls Clubs Exec Jim Richards Sees Big Growth for Youth Futsal, once Economy Rebounds
By Tim Sheldon
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (10-27-09) Futsal has become Jim Richards' sport of choice when working with large numbers of kids at Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and he sees rapid growth for the sport once the economy turns.
Richards, a 35-year veteran of the Boys & Girls Clubs who is now President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, said he recognized the value of Futsal while directing the Columbia Park Boys Club in San Francisco's Mission District.
"I hooked up with (U.S. Minisoccer Federation Vice President for Public Relations) Jorge Bordt back in the late 1980's," he said. "After the 1984 Olympics, Peter Ueberroth created an Olympic Development Fund for the Boys & Girls Club, and there were four sports involved, including team handball, table tennis, volleyball and Futsal.
(Photo: Jim Richards.)
"And of the sports that lasted, the only one that really stuck was Futsal, and at some of the clubs Futsal surpassed basketball in popularity."
Richards moved to San Francisco at the end of 1989 to take over as executive director at Columbia Park Boys Club, and Bordt stopped by to demonstrate Futsal. The club launched a Midnight Futsal program which became instantly popular.
"When the whole world was doing Midnight Basketball, we were on ESPN with an 11-minute piece on Midnight Futsal," Richards recalled. "It showed that there are a lot of alternatives to street violence. Give kids a choice between gang activity and Futsal, and Futsal would win out every time."
Columbia Park used the same template as Midnight Basketball with it's Futsal program designed to keep kids off the streets on Friday and Saturday nights.
"We had a partnership with the police, who drove our kids home in vans," Richards said. "In the early 90's at the Mission Precinct, the officers would round up their vans, because we would have up to 150 boys in the building on a Friday night, and the last thing you want to do is push them all out walking home."
Columbia Park combined their vans with the police vans, and in a remarkable cooperative effort, "we taught the police how to referee the games, and they coached many of our teams. For years we had 100 kids in that one Columbia Park space. I drove a van until 1 in the morning on Friday nights.for three years once the police quit."
It was a great partnership until the city ran into a budget crunch and stopped police van service. Columbia was forced to discontinue the Midnight program because, "we didn't want to contribute gang violence in the streets. We wanted to be the alternative to gang violence. When kids had a choice between Futsal and gang activity, Futsal would win out every time."
Richards is now developing Futsal programs with equal energy in Las Vegas. He has been organizing Boys & Girls Club teams from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Reno and San Francisco to take part in the Hawaiian Holiday Youth Futsal Tournament in Kauai, joining club teams from Honolulu and Kauai.
They've also just rebuilt the club in North Las Vegas, the James Clubhouse, and installed a natural grass Futsal court outside.
"It's an almost all Latin community now and they're going to love playing outside on the grass. They'll be able to play barefoot," Richards said.
They have two gyms in Las Vegas. One has four indoor courts and the other has three.
"We could host a national Futsal championship using the seven courts at the two locations," he said. "So we're looking forward to growing the program as the economy comes back.
"I see nothing but growth with the Futsal program. It's absolutely a great game. If I had only basketball and Futsal, I would take Futsal because kids at every age feel comfortable playing it. Kicking the ball is so much more natural and easy for them. It's a much better developmental program. If I only had one it would be Futsal."