This week in our new TALK series, McLeanToday.org interviews Louise Waxler, executive director of McLean Youth Soccer [MYS] — MYS offers year-round programming for children aged 3-19 years old from the recreational level through the elite level in the form of teams, leagues, camps, clinics and more. Waxler, above, surrounded by MYS boys: Senior Day at Lewinsville Park.
Q. Were you a sporty kid?
I was a sport kid in my younger days. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh. My brother Tony and I both played multiple sports. Tony played basketball, baseball, football and went on to be very successful in Major League Baseball. He retired six years ago as the director of scouting for the Atlanta Braves. Through high school, I played basketball, softball, field hockey, and volleyball.
Q. I bet there wasn’t a girls soccer program for you to join back then?
No, you’re absolutely right. There was no soccer program offered for female athletes during my era of growing up.
Q. You shared your brother’s incredible sports journey. Tell us yours.
, back in the ’60s, I pursued physical education/health at Slippery Rock [University in Slippery Rock, Pa.] but we came from a blue collar family — my dad was a steel worker — and it was difficult to pay for college for my brother and I. My brother had a baseball scholarship so he was taken care of but when it came to me it was a struggle to pay for college tuition. During my junior year of school my mom became ill and passed away. It was a financial burden for me to continue my degree. It was a difficult time. I had a year left and I just couldn’t complete it.
You know what? Her passing didn’t stop me from pursuing what I loved at a later time in life — and that was sports. After I married and had kids, I became involved with sports once again, specifically soccer. I was recruited — as a volunteer — to assist with managing the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament in Maryland. I took over that in 1986 and stayed with that for 20 years. Along the pathway that led me to my career in the sport, I was approached by John Hendricks, who was the founder of the Discovery Channel. We were at a tournament in 1999 — his daughter’s team was a finalist in the tournament playing — and although I had never formally met him, I found him to be one of the most caring and passionate individuals who had a love for the women’s game. I recall this man wearing a Discovery bomber jacket approaching me to introduce himself. He told me that he was going to start a women’s professional soccer league right after the Women’s World Cup and asked if I would be interested in joining the league, which left me speechless. Next thing I knew I was on the 24th floor in Bethesda at Discovery headquarters [which since moved to Silver Spring] and I was offered a position with the soon to be Women’s United Soccer Association and the Washington Freedom.
So it was John Hendricks who launched my professional career in soccer in October of 2000. I started with the Washington Freedom as Director of Operations in grassroots outreach. My connection to the youth game was very strong. I had also run the WAGS Soccer Tournament for three years so I had developed a reputation within management and operations, particularly in the women’s game. I worked for the Washington Freedom until that league suspended operations. During the time period between the launch of the secone league in 2009, the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), current MYS Technical Director, Clyde Watson, former Washington Freedom coach, Jim Gabarra and I created the Washington Freedom soccer club. I stayed with the WPS and went on to be the general manager of the Philadelphia Independence. Unfortunately, sustaining a women’s professional soccer league in the USA struggled and so the WPS suspended operations at the conclusion of the 2011 season.
After 11 years in pro sports, I decided to return to the grass roots game. McLean Youth Soccer had decided to hire an executive director for the club and had advertised for the position. A few people called me from McLean and said, “Hey Wax, you should apply for this.” So I did and I was offered the position in April 2012 and have been rooted in the program since.
Q. What’s changed most with MYS in your ten years as executive director?
We’ve gone from a volunteer organization to a professionally managed operation. Prior to my position, the volunteer board of directors managed the operations of the club. We transitioned from that to staff. That was a slow process. It took probably two, three years. For me it was important to learn the culture of the community, the membership and the coaching staff. To come in and learn about the people that you’re working with: who your members are: what they prefer; listening to people versus coming in and deciding everything is broken and we’re going to make change. It was a gradual process for me to hire management staff. We professionalized it. We built from the bottom up.
Q. What’s your staffing size now? How many players?
Full time staff — you’ll probably be shocked at this — is seven who work remotely. We’re still small. We work from home. The overhead — for us it’s like why spend the players money when we can put it back into the program. With technology such as Zoom and Google Meet, we can conduct weekly staff calls or “meet” on an as needed basis. MYS membership is currently comprised of 1700 recreation players and 1150 travel players. The recreation number fluctuates as we offer fall and spring sessions.
Q. What would surprise us to learn about MYS?
There’s so much that we do in the community that people are not even aware of — we’ve partnered with FCPS to build eight synthetic turf fields. All those fields that the kids play on — McLean Youth Soccer paid for most of them. The newest, the Holladay Field that opened in the fall of 2021 was funded partly by Leidos and the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates. Leidos CEO Roger Krone and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, wanted to contribute as soccer fans but more importantly to contribute to the youth of the community. Then I went to Fairfax County and said I had this money and we would like to convert that field to turf because we need another surface. The County contributed the remainder and the field opened last October. [Collectively, the private funding amounted to $725,000. The project also used public money from the county’s 2016 park bond.]
It’s not just about youth soccer. It’s about kids at all levels and all sports. We believe that we can enhance recreational sports for both youth and adults by investing back into the community. You can go to Lewinsville Park on any given afternoon and see football and McLean High School field hockey and McLean High School soccer. We are about to embark on a capital campaign to raise funds to build permanent restrooms at Lewinsville Park and hope the community will support our efforts. The cost of the project is approximately $650,000 with a projected completion date of early 2025. In addition to the restrooms, a shelter and equipment storage facility for the club will be incorporated into the design.
Q. What are McLean families looking for when they come to MYS?
A professionally managed organization that can offer their children a positive soccer experience. The procedures and policies that we have in place align with best business practices for non-profit organizations.
Managing Stress seminar: Dr. Lauren Gregg (in blue jacket), former assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National team; WWC champion and Olympic gold medalist with MYS coaches at McLean High School
Q. What’s the most challenging thing about being the executive director of MYS?
That’s a loaded question. The most challenging aspect is to continue to be innovative with new programming while providing customer satisfaction for our membership. I ask myself — it’s not the how it’s the why. Why are we creating new programming? What are the goals and the end results for the players? What are their aspirations? There are 70 travel level teams that offer different pathways for players: players at the elite level; those players that are looking for us to help them with a college pathway; and those who simply love to play. It’s about providing opportunities for everyone.
Q. What’s the most fun part of the job for you?
Being able to watch our players on the field. I love the camaraderie that is established on teams as well as players being proud to wear the McLean badge on their uniform. When I come to McLean, I try to go to all the fields, starting with the rec kids in the morning — I’ll go to Springhill and then I ultimately wind up at Lewinsville because we have two fields and I can see a number of games and see and talk to some of the parents, coaches and players. Aside from watching these players, the support the players have from their families is quite special. The parents are proud of their kids and it’s enjoyable to go out and see them.
Q. Given your profession, is soccer a family — your husband and two daughters — affair for you?
I don’t think my family has had much of a choice. People used to tease my husband — we bought him a t-shirt when I was running the Columbia Tournament. On the back it said simply “Louise’s husband.” He enjoys the game. He loves watching the Premier League. My oldest daughter was not a soccer player, she pursued non-athletic interests. My younger daughter started her “soccer career” when she was four and she continued through the college game as a member of the University of Arkansas women’s team. Playing was definitely her passion.
Q. What are your goals still for McLean Youth Soccer?
To be the best soccer organization in the DMV area; continuing to be innovative by offering the best soccer experience for all ages — from ages 3 to 23 and beyond. I’m proud of the diversity and quality of our coaching staff — many of whom have played at the highest levels representing their respective countries. Obviously a field complex would be superb; an indoor facility for winter training would be wonderful and I just want us to remain a viable entity to provide a sport for those kids that choose to play. We’ve created a wonderful culture in McLean.
Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.
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