I am forever grateful for the bold coaches who pushed this game to become what it is today. Not long ago, there wasn’t a soul in St. George that owned a soccer ball. Yet now, I find myself hitting the brakes at least once a week because one has rolled out in front of me.
Growing up in Southern Utah, soccer has been a pivotal part of my life. The incredible growth it has experienced is truly awe-inspiring. What is even more remarkable is if you ask the younger players how soccer found its way here, they are often clueless!
My mission is to uncover the past and ensure everyone knows more about how our local soccer community took shape.
Listening to the tales shared by our local soccer legends during interviews, the story unfolds in the early 1970s when Hispanic immigrants introduced the beautiful game to Bluff Street Park (also known as Sand Town Park). Armed with nothing but a patch of grass and a soccer ball, pick-up matches on Saturday and Sunday mornings became a regular occurrence.
The echoes of cheers and celebrations accompanying each scored goal captured the attention of many locals. Interest in this game started to sprout. At this pivotal moment, the true hero of this narrative, Judge Richard Michael Dobson, steps onto the stage.
Born in 1936 in the bustling city of Yorkshire, England, Judge Dobson was intimately familiar with the ins and outs of soccer. Dobson became one of St. George's first coaches with actual playing experience. Recognizing the burgeoning desire within the community to learn and play soccer, he began organizing teams and coaches. Gradually, he took on roles like “Director of Youth Soccer in St. George” and “President for District 31 of the Utah Youth Soccer Program.”
Then, we encounter the extraordinary Kirt Klingonsmith. Despite his lack of prior coaching experience, Kirt's strong desire to help his sons learn the game prompted him to devote much of his free time to mastering coaching techniques. Judge Dobson handed him handwritten drills for Kirt to learn and impart to his sons' team.
As Kirt Klingonsmith dedicated his efforts to improving the game in St. George, many have reaped the rewards of his hard work, even today. He stopped coaching a few years before his passing in 2003, though his legacy continues to live on through the many soccer players that have been impacted by his endeavors. His contribution to the game has not gone unnoticed, as many are brought together annually for the Kirt Klingonsmith Classic friendly match.
In due course, Southern Utah's first competitive soccer team emerged. Bearing the name Ambassadors, they unwittingly etched their names into history. This St. George-based team became trailblazers, venturing out to play matches in distant locations. Just two years later, soccer gained enough traction to earn a spot in the Utah Summer Games. Many players from this team later became part of the inaugural Dixie State College Men's Soccer Team.
Watching these young men play, sparked a newfound interest in soccer among local youth. Children began pleading with their parents for opportunities to join the game. Among those enthusiastic youngsters were the Wilkinson boys, sons of Travis and Holly Wilkinson.
Travis and Holly set out on a mission to secure a place for their younger boys to play. After discovering the lack of options for younger players in town and realizing that other parents shared the same concern, they took matters into their own hands. The couple turned their children's aspirations into reality by establishing a community youth soccer league. Cox Park emerged as the hub, where every Saturday morning, hundreds of kids would gather for games.
As the number of kids began to grow exponentially, the Wilkinsons, with the help of several others (Kimball Leavitt, Linda Huddleston, and Lionel and Rosie Garcia) established St. George’s first recreational youth soccer league, AYSO.
During that same time, Eric Landon arrived in Southern Utah to help establish SUSA, Southern Utah Soccer Association, in creating a competitive soccer league. After Travis and Holly helped grow AYSO to over 1,500 players, they left to support and grow SUSA. While both leagues were helping to grow soccer in Southern Utah, SUSA lacked a recreational side and AYSO lacked a competitive side. Identifying this dichotomy, Travis and Holly brought the majority of AYSO players over to SUSA and formed two leagues; a competitive league and a recreational league (KICKs), that both functioned under the UYSA umbrella. Unlike AYSO, this allowed recreational players to play in a more organized structure. It included coaches wanting to expand their soccer knowledge, an official league, and paid refs.
The newly founded league started expanding relentlessly. Seeking to integrate their teams, it wasn't long before the US Youth Soccer approached Travis and Holly. The infrastructure introduced by US Youth Soccer acted as a catalyst for rapid growth, propelling the league's success.
This league's evolution culminated in the creation of the Southern Utah Soccer Association, which continues to oversee youth soccer for ages 4 to 10. Subsequently, Utah Youth Soccer merged the competitive side of youth games, spanning from ages 8 to 18.
While the growth of soccer in Saint George was apparent through tryout and registration numbers, you may be wondering how we have competed on the big stage. The UYSA Presidents Cup has been one of Utah’s most competitive tournaments. Hosted annually in Mesquite, this tournament features some of the most elite teams from Utah. The victors in these age groups have the opportunity to advance to the Far West Regionals, where they face off against formidable opponents from Southern California, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, among others. While Utah teams rarely make it to the national stage, the Utah Presidents Cup serves as a crucial barometer for the success of local clubs. Winning a Presidents Cup title is a remarkable achievement, and winning multiple titles is exceptionally rare.
In nearly 15 years of the Utah Presidents Cup, St. George has competed valiantly and made its mark. Success has been found on more than one occasion. The 07 Heat FC Andy Yergensen girls' team clinched victory in all three age groups: 7v7, 9v9, and 11v11, surpassing powerhouse competitors like the Avalanche Academy and La Roca Academy teams. This feat is a testament to the exceptional talent grown in St. George. Additionally, the 09 Ignite/Rebel Elite girls' team showed their strength by qualifying for four consecutive championships, securing titles in both the 9v9 and 11v11 categories. Additionally, the 01 7Elite team, coached by Stuart Dewey, proudly clinched the Presidents Cup National Championship in 2018, adding another memorable chapter to St. George’s soccer history.
In 2023, the 09 Ignite/Rebel Elite girls' team achieved the pinnacle of success by winning the Utah Presidents Cup, Far West Regional Presidents Cup, and the National Presidents Cup. This is the trifecta of victories. A true showcase of the power that comes with hard-work, determination, and focus (not to mention training in 115-degree weather). These achievements underscore the talent and dedication within St. George’s soccer community, leaving a permanent mark on the city’s soccer legacy.
Today, our region boasts a community of over 3000 competitive soccer players, Men and Women’s Division One College Soccer Programs. Additionally, every high school in the area is bursting at the seam with soccer players. It's truly astounding to contemplate the growth, considering a few years ago we scarcely had a single field to play on. The journey from modest beginnings to a flourishing soccer community stands as a testament to the commitment, fervor, and foresight of the coaches, mentors, and individuals who molded it. Their influence resonates across time, and the depth of gratitude we owe them is immeasurable.
1975- Hispanic locals played pick-up games at bluff street park
1981- Recreation league started (organized by Judge Dobson)
1986- First “club” team plays in an out-of-town tournament. Team name: Ambassadors
1988- Soccer was introduced to the Utah Summer Games
1990– High School men's soccer was approved
1993– High School Women's Soccer was approved
1993– Dixie State College Men's Soccer Team was created
1994- Southern Utah Soccer Association started
2002- Dixie ‘Fire F.C’ was created by Travis and Holly Wilkinson
2004- Dixie Invitational held its first tournament
2009- Saint George F.C -Southern Utah's first semi-professional women's team, WPSL
2017- STG Soccer Skills was Founded by Justin Brinkerhoff
2017– 7 Elite Academy begins in Saint George
2018- Ignite F.C founded by Steve Beckstrom
2020- Rebel Elite was created by Chris Brown
2022- First Indoor Soccer Tournament by STG Soccer Skills
2023- La Roca FC Starts in Saint George
2040– Saint George is recognized as the Mecca of soccer talent in the United States
Amazing Coaches not mentioned in this article:
Jose Goana: Saint George F.C
Nick Field: 7 Elite
Juli Nield: 7 Elite
Laura Evans: 7 Elite
Jerry Thomas: Bombers F.C
Kyle Paisley: Bombers F.C
Seth Klingonsmith: WPSL
Isaac Klingonsmith: Fire F.C
Scott Lambertson: WPSL Team
Danny Ortiz: Dixie State Mens Coach
Miguel Perez: Fire F.C
Lionel & Rose Gracia
Jared & KariAnn Atkin: Southern Utah KICKS
Mark Hunt: Fire F.C
Danny Santos: Fire F.C
Zac Hales: Fire F.C
Nyle Ortiz: DSU Womens Coach
Johnny Broadhead: Utah Tech Men’s Coach
Andrew Yergensen and Holly Yergensen
*Am I missing any information? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!