Visit Wesley Chapel District Park on any given Sunday evening, and you’re bound to find about 60 women scattered across four teams playing friendly games of soccer.
It’s called the New Adult Premier Soccer League, or New APSL, for short.
The recreational club was formed around 2013 by Colin Eke, a former semi-professional soccer player from England, who’s been involved with the game for some 50-plus years.
The New APSL women’s spring league runs through July 11, with summer, fall and winter seasons planned beyond that.
Players come from as far away as Orlando Spring Hill, Brooksville and St. Petersburg, as well as locally in Dade City, Lutz, New Tampa, Wesley Chapel and other area communities.
The club welcomes players of all skill levels, ranging from beginners to advanced.
There’s even a player on the league’s Goal Diggers squad — Hudson High School and Flagler College product Lindsay Zullo — who was part of the 2014 Haiti women’s national football team.
“Anyone can come play,” Eke said, in a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz Newspaper. “There’s no division between how competitive and recreational. They’re all mixed in together, and they’re all there.”
Besides good-natured contests in a welcoming atmosphere, many of these active ladies use the league as a vehicle for exercise and weight loss, and stimulating conversations.
“Fun is the word,” Eke said the New APSL. “It’s just ladies coming out to have a good run and having a bit of fun on a Sunday night, getting away from the normal routine they would have during the week, and it’s a way of letting off a bit of steam as well. That’s what makes the difference.”
The hardest part of overseeing the year-round women’s league?
Sometimes, Eke jokes, it’s whistling to get the ladies together to start the games on time, because they’re usually “chatting away as if it’s a social event” on the sidelines. The conversations cover everything from relationships, to schooling, to cooking and other hobbies.
“They’re all friends. There’s no rivalry between any of them. They just want to come along, relax and enjoy the camaraderie,” the league organizer said.
What also makes the club special, Eke said, is the ability for teenage daughters (ages 14 years old and up) to play alongside mothers or guardians for free, fostering a family bonding outing, of sorts.
“They enjoy that side of it,” he said.
Eke is also quick to note he invites ideas from club members, welcoming suggestions on game times, gameplay rules, field locations, roster sizes and so on.
“I’m just a caretaker. I’m just here to listen to what they want,” said Eke. He subscribes to the notion of having an open-door policy. “If someone wants to talk to me about something different, then I’m prepared to listen to it.”
Except for a close friend, who pitches in to help referee games, Eke is “a one-man-band,” coordinating league schedules, reservations and other inquiries, oftentimes in between lunch breaks at his day job at Port Tampa Bay.
“it’s good fun. I enjoy it,” Eke said of running the league. “It’s not a job for me, it’s a hobby, you know. It’s a vocation. I enjoy every Sunday night being a referee.”
He also makes efforts to coordinate a trophy and awards celebration after each season.
League champions generally receive a seasonal prize, such as woolen hats and gloves in the winter, or breathable T-shirts in the summer, along with coffee mugs, beer glasses “or whatever they fancy,” Eke said.
The New APSL offers men’s and Hispanic leagues, too.
Eke also has toyed with organizing indoor soccer, ultimate Frisbee and cricket leagues in the area, if enough interest picks up with those sports.
“There’s a lot of things I’d love to expand into,” he said.
For information, visit newapsl.com or call (813) 610-2278.
Published June 16, 2021