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Soccer club wins county service award

When Phil Ortega and Nita Lundberg helped launch the Upper Rogue United Futbol Club, they expected about 75 young soccer fans to show up.

Instead, they were flooded with 230 kids eager to join teams and make new friends in that first 2014 season.

Today, the Upper Rogue United Futbol Club serves 444 kids and has more than 100 volunteers — including 42 head coaches and a cadre of assistant coaches.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday awarded Ortega and Lundberg the county's Community Service Award for June.

In presenting the award, Commissioner Colleen Roberts said the club encourages friendships across economic and cultural boundaries, teaches respect and a strong work ethic, gives kids a sense of belonging and helps them stay fit at a time when the nation is battling an obesity epidemic among youth.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said involvement with the soccer club will have a lasting impact on the kids.

"It stays with them their entire life," he said.

Before the club formed, kids spread out in the communities of White City, Eagle Point, Shady Cove, Lake Creek, Butte Falls, Trail and Prospect had to travel to Medford or Central Point for the chance to play organized soccer before they entered high school.

"Kids had to travel outside of the community to play," said Lundberg, who also serves on the Jackson County School District 9 board of directors.

The Upper Rogue United Futbol Club has provided a way for those outlying communities to offer soccer to kids age 4-18.

Lundberg and Ortega said the club teaches more than just soccer skills. They have seen some kids who were struggling academically improve their grades.

"The coaches talk about how important school is," said Ortega, who also works as an attendance/Safe School coordinator for the school district.

Teens have gotten involved with the club both as players and coaches, with several taking on coaching responsibilities as their senior projects for graduation. Many have developed a love for mentoring the younger kids.

"The teens want to keep coaching. They have a new course in life," Ortega said.

In an era when youths sports are becoming increasingly expensive — and out of reach for many — the club has gotten creative. Parents sponsor other kids and share equipment, businesses have donated soccer gear such as shoes, and other community members have stepped forward to help.

"We never turn a child away because they cannot pay to play or because they don't have equipment," Lundberg said.

Ortega and Lundberg said it hasn't been easy to create the club and keep it running, but they and other community members are committed to its success.

"There's no quit in us," Lundberg said. "These kids are worth it."

For more information about the club, see www.urunited.com.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Soccer players with the Upper Rogue United Futbol Club ham it up for the camera. Photo courtesy the club's Facebook page