If you live in Edina, chances are you know someone who plays or has played soccer for the Edina Soccer Association (ESA) or Edina High School (EHS). It’s a safe bet, given that there were more than 2,600 kids signed up for ESA’s spring and summer league this year.
At the helm of Edina’s soccer community are a few familiar faces: Krista Gresham has been ESA’s coordinator and program manager for more than 10 years, and her kids participated in the program even before she took on the position. Then there’s David Jenson, who is starting his 30th season as EHS’ head soccer coach this fall.
In Edina, soccer starts at a young age, getting kids onto teams simply to try it out. If you go through ESA, you’ve likely worked with Gresham. She sets up ESA’s online registration software, does all the marketing, updates the website, recruits volunteers, schedules fields, orders uniforms, works with food vendors, and pretty much anything else you can think of— including working closely with ESA board members.
But one of the most important things Gresham does is ensure every child has a chance to play. Whether it’s accommodating a medical condition or providing a scholarship, “we just make sure that soccer is available,” she says, regardless of financial or medical obstacles.
“We’re in our 42nd year, and I think a key point is that we’re a nonprofit and we continue to only charge $100 per participant,” Gresham says. The $100 per participant fee hasn’t changed in 10 years. For this, Gresham credits the diverse and resourceful board. They are always looking for more board members with skills in finance, insurance or with other kinds of business acumen, “because that helps our board get smarter and more resourceful.”
From ESA, many kids go on to try out for the high school soccer team, where Jenson greets players in the fall. “Kids will tell you he’s the best coach they’ve ever had,” Gresham says. “He really works with kids to just get better and better throughout the season.” At age 57, Jenson is in better shape than some incoming high school athletes, which shows the type of conditioning he expects from players.
Jenson has had some connection to Edina soccer since the beginning. He started coaching with ESA as a sophomore in high school, and was the ninth-grade boys’ soccer coach right after high school in the fall of 1977. After attending Belmont Abbey in North Carolina and the University of St. Thomas, where he continued to play soccer, Jenson returned to Edina, and in 1986 got the opportunity to lead the EHS team.
Billy Gardner had been working with Jenson in the summers, and Jenson asked if Gardner wanted to join him at EHS. The duo has been “co-coaching” ever since. The standing joke is that they have “checkpoints” when they’ll stop coaching, but that each checkpoint keeps getting pushed back.
“My daughter was graduating from Wayzata in 2006, and we thought that would be it,” Jenson says. “But that was when [Gardner] got married, and then he had kids… Maybe we’ll keep coaching until his oldest plays in high school. Maybe we’ll stop when we can’t keep up anymore.”
The continual pushback against thoughts of quitting makes it clear: “It’s about the kids,” Jenson says. He refers to every fall as being like Christmas when he gets a big present, like a box he opens and out pop 90 to 100 kids. Each year brings a group of kids that want to be better than the year before.
Over 30 years, Jenson says his coaching philosophy has been, “We teach good principles and let the players coach themselves.” Soccer is both a physical and mental sport, he says. “Every player at the varsity level knows that when they leave training, their brain hurts because we make them think.”
This philosophy has helped lead the team to three state championships during Jenson’s tenure, and a hall of fame induction.
Between ESA and EHS, soccer is here to stay in Edina. And so it seems are Jenson and Gardner. “The kids come in and they dream,” Jenson says, “and you say, well, as long as they’re still dreaming, we’ll keep coaching.”