New AYSO president Mark Stewart helps spread soccer across America.
Congratulate Mark Stewart on his newly appointed position, president for Associated Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), and you might not hear the response you’d expect. “Well, most people say ‘condolences,'” the 60-year-old Kailua resident quipped modestly.
Those offering sympathy understand what comes with the territory of serving as the nationally presiding head of the non-profit, a voluntary position no less. There are the quarterly board meetings at AYSO’s Torrance, California headquarters, the frequent trips all over the country training administrative volunteers and, of course, the responsibility of keeping an organization with half a million players nationwide, from 4 years old through 19, operating smoothly.
While the role of president is demanding, it comes with a tremendous payoff: the opportunity to serve children and the larger community. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Stewart assured. “I really enjoy what we do.”
Beyond the benefits of physical activity and the exhilaration of games, Stewart is a firm believer in team sports as a character builder. “[Kids] learn about teamwork and learn to become better citizens.” And while he’d love to see as many as possible playing soccer, Stewart feels that any type of group activity where kids can get out there and participate is worthwhile. One of his goals as president is to make AYSO available to even more players.
His involvement with AYSO began “like most parents,” he said, when he signed up his son Cory to play in the Kailua program. That was 30 years ago. His younger son, Kyle, followed suit. “I ended up as assistant coach that year also, kind of by osmosis,” Stewart explained. He later became a volunteer coach and referee and continued coaching both sons through their AYSO program. Afterward, he became Kailua’s regional commissioner, then, Hawai‘i’s state director.
Nine years ago he was elected onto the national board of directors, making him one of 11 people from across the county who comprise the governing body tasked with strategic and financial planning. During his ti me on the board he served as vice president for four years, and in May he was elected president.
What first drew Stewart to AYSO was the organization’s mission. “AYSO has always been in the forefront and a leader in a lot of things that come out in youth sports. We were the first to require mandatory playing time for every player … [because] people sign up to play sports. You don’t want to sit on the bench,” Stewart said of AYSO’s guarantee that every player gets a chance out on the field for 50 percent of the game. “Another thing we do is open registration. Anyone who signs up makes the team.”
Team sports have been a part of Stewart’s life since childhood. At 9, Stewart and his family moved from California to Kailua, where he played baseball and football while attending Enchanted Lake Elementary and Kailua Intermediate.
It wasn’t until high school at Saint Louis that Stewart got into playing soccer. (AYSO didn’t get its start in Hawai‘i until after he graduated.) And while he humbly admits to being a “mediocre” player, what he lacked in skill, he made up for in passion.
At University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in the mid ’70s, Stewart studied education before switching his major to travel industry management. He joined the East-West Center’s former intramural, not to mention, international soccer team where he learned “real quick” that his fellow teammates from Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore knew more about the sport than he did. When his dad got sick during his junior year, Stewart left school to help with his family’s retail business.
Now Stewart owns a local real estate and property management firm where he’s developed the business savvy he applies to AYSO. He also chairs the mediation committee for the Honolulu Board of Realtors and volunteers as a mediator for realtors and the public on real estate issues. He and his wife Cristi still live in Kailua, a location he calls “the best place in the world.”
Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of sports for Stewart has been the friends and community he’s developed over the years. “I have friendships now that go back 40 years in Kailua, people who I went to school with and played ball with. I think it makes you a better part of your community when, not only you play, you then turn back and give back to your community.”
When asked if he feels he has made a positive influence on the community, “Well, hopefully,” Stewart says with a laugh. Though modest about his achievements, Stewart has laid the groundwork for the next generation of AYSO players near and far. During off-island visits to see his sons, Stewart now watches his grandchildren take the field.
AMERICAN YOUTH SOCCER ORGANIZATION