By Craig Beilfuss

MUSKEGON–Cate Garretson and Ally Oppenhuizen are making an impact on Sunday afternoons in Muskegon.

Not from the pulpit preaching sermons, but sharing their love for the game of soccer with the youth of the area.

The soccer-loving duo has been leading a youth soccer camp for youngsters at Hackley Stadium, home of the Muskegon Big Reds.

Garretson and Oppenhuizen, both seniors at WMC, are co-founders of the camp, which mainly works with youth in grades K-5.

Photo/Mike Banka

“Ally and I love playing soccer and we helped out with WMC’s youth soccer program which brought us both joy to see younger players so invested in the game,” said Garretson. “We wanted to make that experience more accessible.”

The camps were $50 and kids needed transportation to WMC. Those two things can be prohibitive for some players.

“My family has had the pleasure of being involved with Muskegon athletics through their football team so I reached out to Shane Fairfield (Big Reds head football coach) with the idea for a youth soccer camp at the high school,” Garretson said.

They chose to do their camps on Sundays for two reasons.

“The first is that kids tend to be inside on Sundays watching cartoons or in their rooms so we wanted them to have an opportunity to be outside,” she said. “Second, we wanted to make sure there were no scheduling conflicts both with the soccer schedule and the football schedule.”

Photo/Mike Banka

Garretson and Oppenhuizen appreciated the support from the high school, namely athletic director Keith Guy, football coach Shane Fairfield as well as Kevin Foley, Jon Witmer and Steve Thompson. All contributed in getting the program off the ground.

Along with help of several volunteers, Cate and Ally practice with the youth on a number of soccer techniques, depending on the age group.

“For the kindergarten-second grade group we like to focus on fitness, learning the game, and getting touches on the ball,” Garretson said. “For the third through fifth grade group, we love to play games such as sharks and minnows dribbling and rondos. Making sure to include everyone no matter their skill level.”

It’s those volunteers who are a must in order to have a smooth-running camp.

“Specifically, the Muskegon girls’ soccer team repeatedly shows up with a number of regular volunteers,” Garretson said. “There are volunteers from the Muskegon boys’ soccer team as well.

“The soccer players from Muskegon are such a joy to work with, they bring a positive energy and enthusiasm to the field that encourages the kids,” she said. “Sonny Vance, Jr., Mason Villarreal, Pol Salvado, and Ryan Smith are the volunteers from the boys team.”
Photo/Mike Banka
The duo needed assistance from the Muskegon High School athletic staff in order to make it all work, including putting a game plan in place to approach students about the camp,

They called Oakview, Moon, Bunker, 3 Oaks, and Muskegon Christian School and got their enrollment numbers so flyers could be dropped off.

Garretson hopes the Sunday afternoon camp will continue in the spring of 2024. The camp will come to a close in June as the school season winds down.

“It’s been amazing to see how invested the Muskegon community has become in this camp,” Garretson said. “We have over 10 regular volunteers along with coaches and support staff.”

The hope is to continue to have WM Christian soccer players partner with the Big Red players working together to make the camp a success.

Already, there is talk of extending the camp another week into the summer.

“We hope that the soccer camp will inspire younger kids from Muskegon to fall in love with soccer the way that we have and that they will always have an opportunity to play, no matter their age,” said Garretson, who is relying on her experience at Western Michigan Christian to not only form, but grow the camp.

“Being an athlete at WMC has taught me how important a supportive, consistent community is,” Garretson said. “I have had the pleasure of playing sports with my best friends and meeting people who I never would have talked to.

“From playing at WMC, I have learned a lot,” said Oppenhuizen. “I’ve met new people and made lasting friendships with many girls I never thought I would. I’ve learned that some seasons in life are harder than others and it is important to stick with those people to get through it all. Coaches and teammates have helped me grow in my faith and encouraged me to trust God more and depend on him through every win and every loss. I can’t imagine my life without all the amazing people who have come into my life through soccer.”

Graduation is coming up for Garretson, who is co-valedictorian with a 4.26 grade-point-average and Oppenhuizen will graduate as the salutatorian with a 4.22 grade point average.

Garretson is heading to Georgia Tech, where she will major in biomedical engineering. Oppenhuizen will attend Huntington University in Indiana where she will major in Art Education.

Garretson is the daughter of Bob and Heather Garretson. Oppenhuizen is the daughter of Keith and Loralee Oppenhuizen.

Photo/Mike Banka