Sunday soccer in Milton-Freewater has been going strong for two-plus decades and appears to be on the rise.

That according to Arnie Alvarez, who has been part of the long-standing weekly ritual both as a player and referee.

“I played in the league for four or five years and have refereed for the last three years,” said Alvarez, a paraprofessional at McLoughlin High School.

The league, which calls Rotary Field home, has grown from eight to 10 teams over the last couple of years, Alvarez said.

Teams, comprised of players high school age and older, can carry between 18 and 20 players on their respective rosters, Alvarez said.

League play unfolds in both the spring and fall, Alvarez said. Teams play each other twice prior to playoff matches, Alvarez said.

Alvarez reflected on his time as a player.

“I have a passion for the sport,” he said. “It’s nice being with friends and people you know. It’s a family.

“It’s nice to be with guys you went to school with,” Alvarez said. “The league gives younger players the daily exercise they need.”

Alvarez expressed similar feelings when talking about officiating.

“I love helping out because I enjoy the sport,” Alvarez said. “I have fun. It’s nice to be with people you grew up with, but you need to be more professional because you’re calling the match.”

Alvarez said the increase in teams will improve league play.

He said, “Ten teams will boost things up even more and make it more competitive.”

Competitive, but not heated.

“We tell the players ‘You are not here to try and take someone out. You’re here to have fun,’” Alvarez said. “We want things to be under control. It’s supposed to be a family environment.

“We always help each other to have fun.”

Milton-Freewater has welcomed players from outside the area — Prescott, Touchet, and the Tri-Cities, Alvarez said.

This factor, and more, have Alvarez optimistic about the future.

“We often use word of mouth (to raise awareness),” Alvarez said. “It has been growing because people are willing to take a chance, make a new team, and make it grow. Teams tend to pull people in. I see the league growing to 11or 12 teams hopefully.”

Roy Elia can be reached