Hyren Gaitan, 5, dribbled a soccer ball across the South Park field Monday evening, braving the summer heat to have some fun with his teammates.

Hyren, a player on the Saints team, is one of about 300 young athletes ages 5 to 14 who are participating in the Copperas Cove summer youth soccer league.

His father, Jacobo Gaitan, of Killeen, has played soccer since he was young and coached in the Copperas Cove league for several years. This year, he took a break from coaching to focus on helping his son.

“At this age group, the importance of having the parents (around) helps get the kids’ attention,” Gaitan said. “Every year the goal is to have the kids participate, and I am glad to be a part of it all.”

He said keeping the children active is what he enjoys most about the sport.

“The most important thing is socializing outside the home and getting to know the people,” he said. “Seeing them grow as a person and giving them the challenge to develop. They also get the advantage of physical fitness instead of just sitting at home.”

Just three weeks into the season, Hyren said he’s already made a lot of new friends and is excited about being part of the team.

“I made three field goals,” he said. “I like when I have the ball, and I like throwing the ball.”

Ashley Hicks is the head coach of the Saints, which is made up of players ages 6 and younger.

“Soccer is a big team sport with a whole bunch of players getting together and working together so it’s good to have the community involved in a sport like that,” she said.

Hicks recently returned to Cove after graduating from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She said soccer always has been an important part of her life and is glad she can finally give back by passing on her skills to the younger players.

“All sports have always been my thing,” she said. “I’ve actually played college basketball and through high school, I played volleyball, basketball, soccer, ran track and did softball, so I love the sports atmosphere.”

Hicks, a recreation aide for the city, is coaching in the league for the first time. While coaching the youngest age group, she said she really enjoys seeing the strong bond developed among the players.

“Being coed, it allows the girls and boys to get to know each other and work together, not just during the school year,” she said. “It brings a lot of competitiveness so kids get to learn how to become competitive and good teammates. A lot of them are friends, so it’s really essential that when the school year starts up, they end up bound together.”

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