If it's autumn, there will be soccer. This weekend marks the beginning of the Lower Columbia Youth Soccer Association's (LCYSA) 20th season. That is a remarkable anniversary for an organization that was started by volunteers, fueled by private donations and sustained by volunteer efforts. Such longevity is rare in the world of non-profit organizations.

Our editorial and production staffs met this week with LCYSA officials to plan for a special publication that we'll bring out on Oct. 15. This eight-page tabloid will tell the league's extraordinary story.

The LCYSA's success is many things. It is about the importance of voluntarism. It is about giving young people an athletic opportunity. And it is about a sport that is accessible to boys and girls, regardless of their physical stature.

Not long after arriving here some 17 years ago, our family became involved in the league, as volunteers and as parents of soccer players. Clatsop County is richer for the Lower Columbia Youth Soccer AssociationOur son is one of those boys who took to the game immediately. Throughout high school, it was his staple interest. I will never doubt that athletics can be a lifesaver for many young people.

I put in my time as a coach, even though I had never played the game, and also as league president.

I have great empathy and admiration for all who have kept the soccer league going. It is a demanding endeavor. Fortunately, there is a payoff. When you see all of the teams on the field and you see six-year-olds getting their first taste of the game, there is a payoff.

The origin of the LCYSA is a marvelous story. The commander of Coast Guard Group Astoria and his officers played a key role. All of those stories will be told in the tabloid that we are producing.

Next Wednesday will mark the opening of the Pendleton Round-Up, another event that is driven entirely by volunteers. That is significant at a time when professionals run many of the rodeos. My father was a Round-Up director in the 1950s. He was the publicity director. During that period, I remember when a writer-photographer team showed up from Collier's Magazine. The writer was Burt Glinn, a prominent free-lancer of that era. I went into the Blue Mountains with the Collier's team, to be photographed with a Umatilla tribal chief. Collier's died not long thereafter, so our family never saw the fruit of that adventure.

One of my high school chums and his wife have given a good share of their lives to the Round-Up.

In 2010, the Round-Up will mark its centennial year. Our newspaper, The East Oregonian, and the Round-Up Association are collaborating on a commemorative pictorial book. The photographic archives are extensive, so our book editor will have to make some tough choices.

Many criteria describe the difference between communities that thrive and those that are dying. Voluntarism is one of those measurements.

It is always easy, in any situation, to say that someone else ought to do something. As in, why don't they do this or that?

"Conservative" politicians often call for voluntarism as a shield while they cut government spending on schools and human resources programs. That is a shill, and we have learned that all the voluntarism in the world cannot make up for a government safety net that has been removed. Church charities are struggling to meet the needs generated by long-term unemployment and homelessness.

But voluntarism is essential to healthy community life. All of Clatsop County is richer for the existence of the Lower Columbia Youth Soccer Association.

- S.A.F.

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