If you don't play indoor soccer, there's a good chance you know someone who does. Maybe its growing popularity has something to do with the seemingly endless winters here. Or, maybe, more people are discovering soccer is an intense sport after all.
Legends Sportsplex in Bourbonnais says its indoor soccer program membership doubled from fall to spring. More than 400 people played during the winter in the youth, recreational, high school and elite leagues. The elite league had players as young as 17 and some in their 40s.
"It's becoming a big part of the area's sports culture," said Holly Koch, the sportsplex's indoor soccer coordinator. "A lot of people are coming out to play nowadays. Many of them said they used to go to Frankfort to play. More and more people have been coming here since the indoor rink was built."
Legends' indoor field is smaller than average rinks. It's similar to hockey, in that the ball always is in-play and players rotate in and out without any stoppages.
The walls almost serve as a sixth man, with players using them to bank passes to their teammates. Goaltenders also have to adjust to ricochets. All in all, that forces players to keep moving.
"It's a great way to train during the off-season," said Tyler Bettenhausen, a senior at Peotone High School who will play at Kankakee Community College next year. "You're always working on your coordination and visualizing a play before it happens at a much faster pace than outdoor soccer."
At the same time, indoor play matches outdoor soccer's ability to undercut the monotony of exercising. Kaity Reynolds, 23, of Kankakee, fell in love with soccer for that reason. She played four years at Herscher High School and two years at Illinois Central Community College.
"I hate running, but soccer makes me forget that I'm running," Reynolds said. "It's a great way to exercise without getting bored. It tricks you into enjoying running because you're focused on scoring and passing. It's not like running on a treadmill."
Indoor leagues also enable soccer lovers, similar to Reynolds, to keep playing long after high school and college. Matt Williams, 26, of Kankakee, has played 11 years of indoor soccer, as well as 20 years of outdoor soccer. He played on KCC's team for four years.
"These leagues allow me to play even though I am no longer in college or high school," Williams said. "I can balance them with work and play year-round. It allows soccer to stay in my life."
Jeremy Buza, 41, of Chebanse, joined the elite league to play with his friends. He has played soccer for 26 years, and relishes the challenge of facing people more than 20 years younger than him.
"It's good for exercises, and it's good for socializing," he said. "Anyone can play soccer. All you need is a rock or ball — something to kick around. I think that's why it's such a popular sport around the world. It's fun, and you can play it with anyone."