Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, May 31, 1999

AYSO losing two of
its biggest boosters

THERE are a lot of clever bumper stickers out there, but the best sports-related one has to be the one belonging to the American Youth Soccer Organization. The one that reads: plAYSOccer.

AYSO is celebrating its 25th year in Hawaii. It has grown from a few teams scattered throughout the islands to the most popular youth sport in the state.

Region 100 alone has over 2,000 participants, making it the largest in Hawaii. Region 100 is Kailua, which began 25 years ago with a couple of teams drawing from the populace of the entire Windward side.

AYSO - and Region 100 - will be losing two of its godparents next month when Janie and Mustapha Benouis retire to Alabama. The husband-wife combo nursed the sport through its infancy into a very health adulthood.

Janie Benouis recalled the night her husband returned from his Oahu Soccer League board meeting to inform her that she had been volunteered to organize and run the new youth league ... by him.

"He told the board I would do it as easily as if he were saying, "Oh, she'll bake cookies,'" Benouis said.

THE league started with 200 players - all boys - including the Benouis' two oldest sons, Ian, 10, and James, 6. A number of the youngsters belonged to a Cub Scout Troop of which Janie Benouis was den mother.

"I remember calling up every boy in my troop and asking if they were going to be playing football in the fall," she said. "If they said no, I told them to meet us at the Boys' Home for a soccer meeting. They asked what soccer was. We said to just show up.

"Most of them stayed with the sport through high school and stayed very active."

Some of them haven't given it up. Yesterday, Mustapha Benouis played in a Makule Division match for the Hornets in the Ranger League - and played against two of his former players.

Last week, Benouis, a professor of French at the University of Hawaii, celebrated his 63rd birthday by scoring the match's lone goal. Making the assist was son Ian, who was visiting from Texas.

AS good as that pass was, it doesn't top the one by Benouis to his son. That one is the love of the game the professor learned as a young boy growing up in Algeria.

"Ian met his wife, Karen, through their soccer club," said Janie Benouis. "His marriage ceremony was arranged around the World Cup because he had tickets.

"Soccer's been an important part of our lives."

She remained involved with AYSO through 1986, the last season that her youngest son, Osman, competed.

"I used to be in charge of the fields and set up the nets at 7 a.m.," she said. "Then I'd go around to the final matches to pick up all the referee cards.

"The first Saturday morning that there was no soccer, we were sitting down at the breakfast table and I asked my husband, "What do people do on Saturdays?' After 12 years, I really didn't know."

Benouis is proud to have been a soccer mom and soon-to-be soccer grandma. She takes offense at the negative stereotyping of the term given by radio's Rush Limbaugh.

"It sounds rather perjurious," she said. "Of course, I drove a station wagon. I went to every game. I want to call him about this. Soccer moms have made this country what it is today."

And she and her husband helped kick-start the sport here.


Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.

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