THE HISTORY OF FLATHEAD VALLEY UNITED
In 1986, American soccer was in a much different place than today. The US Women’s National Team was only in its second year, there were less than 700 collegiate soccer programs nationwide, and Major League Soccer (MLS) wouldn’t kick off their league play for another decade. Still, the game’s growth was happening rapidly and the hunger for more opportunities to play soccer was palpable, even here in the Flathead Valley.
With that in mind, a few soccer enthusiasts that were markedly ahead of their time began laying the foundation for a soccer organization based in the Kalispell area. After months of deliberation, Donald A. Rich, Mitch Richeal, and Jeannie Parson registered through the Secretary of State’s office to officially certify their new incorporation: The Greater Kalispell Youth Soccer Association Inc.
In 1986, the first non-profit soccer program in the Flathead Valley was officially born. The Greater Kalispell Youth Soccer Association (GKYSA), was founded with a clear purpose:
To develop, promote and administer the playing of the game of soccer among youth under 19 years of age in the greater Kalispell Area and to conduct educational programs and activities designed to increase the public awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the game of soccer. -GKYSA Founders
BECOMING FLATHEAD SOCCER CLUB
After more than a half-decade, the club was becoming increasingly popular. GKYSA was one of the first and only youth sports organizations in the Flathead Valley at the time, and by the mid-90s, approximately 1,400 kids had played soccer due to the efforts of the association. With the help of long-time administrator Marla Luce, the association was able to organize recreational programs for children from every school in the greater Kalispell area. From Smith Valley and Kila to Lakeside and Somers, every single child interested in participating in youth soccer was provided with the chance to play.
But association leadership was now facing another challenging question: How do we offer advanced programs to players looking for a higher level of competition?
Thus in 1993, the association elected to create a separate branch for those players interested in more competitive opportunities, the separate branch would be called The Flathead Force.
For the next few years, the association was able to continue offering programming for both recreational level and competitive level players. The Flathead Force grew into one of the stronger club soccer programs in the state of Montana’s competitive landscape. But as the level of play in the Flathead grew, so did the sheer numbers involved in the program. The association was now too large for their facilities off Airport Road next to the Kalispell Treatment Plant; they simply needed more field space.
So in 1998, the leaders of the association applied for a non-profit grant through the US Soccer Foundation to help with the construction of soccer fields at the Kidsports Complex, in northern Kalispell. After receiving the grant, the construction process began and by the year 2000, matches, training sessions, and evaluations were all taking place at Kidsports.
The association was built on a foundation of hard work and community involvement. Without the efforts of countless community members such as David Himsl and Marla Luce as well as the support of local organizations like Doepker Landscape Inc., and Kalispell Parks and Recreation, the growth of soccer in the Flathead Valley never would’ve been possible.
In 2007, the two entities of the Greater Kalispell Youth Soccer Association (GKYSA) and the Flathead Force officially merged into one, becoming Flathead Soccer Club.
UNITING THE VALLEY
After officially becoming Flathead Soccer Club in 2007, the organization was ready to face unprecedented levels of growth. With that growth meant even further need for expansion. After rigorous fundraising efforts and numerous donations from community members, the club was able to build the David Himsl Memorial Pavilion and with it restroom facilities and a concessions building.
By this time the advanced ages (U-14+) of Flathead Soccer Club (FSC), were in many instances, becoming teams filled by multiple communities. For a number of age groups, motivated players from Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Bigfork came together on FSC teams. This resulted in a high level of success in tournaments outside our area and qualifying teams for Far West Regionals. It also presented another challenge of how to best establish a club environment for the best players in the Flathead Valley.
In 2018, after a decade of operating as Flathead Soccer Club, the organization elected to join forces with Montana Flathead Rapids in establishing a unique partnership known as Flathead Valley United. While both Flathead Soccer Club and the Rapids continued their own localized recreational and youth academy programs, the new Flathead Valley United pooled collective senior-level talent from all the Flathead’s soccer localities (Kalispell, Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Whitefish) into more competitive valley-wide teams. The resulting jump in the level of soccer in northwest Montana has been staggering.
In the past five years, multiple FVU Boys teams have qualified for the USYS Far West Regionals on five separate occasions. On the girl’s side, the development of FVU has helped eight of our female soccer players sign athletic scholarships in the past two years. The health of this club partnership environment has also played a massive role in the unprecedented success of local high school programs in the past half-decade. Three of our local high school soccer programs have won state championships (Glacier Girls, Whitefish Boys, and Columbia Falls Boys) since 2020.
Today, Flathead Soccer Club has officially become Flathead Valley United. The Whitefish programs formerly operated within Flathead Rapids have also joined FSC in becoming a top to bottom part of Flathead Valley United. Starting in the Fall of 2023, Flathead Valley United will now offer programming from the recreational and academy levels in Kalispell and Whitefish; Flathead Rapids will continue to operate Columbia Falls programs in partnership with FVU. This rebrand will allow for more clarity in engagement with parents and will further allow the club to provide a pathway for every player.
While change can always seem daunting, Flathead Valley United Club President Kevin Fox views this step as yet another part of a long and decorated soccer journey for the Flathead Valley.
“After 37 years, the Flathead Soccer Club has taken another logical yet similar step to ones accomplished in the past. In 2023, FSC officially becomes Flathead Valley United SC,” said Fox. “Looking back at all that hard work and long history of soccer in the valley, we will continue to build on that legacy and maintain the shared vision we have with all those who came before us… to conduct educational programs and activities designed to increase the public awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the beautiful game.”