Dr. Laura Heinmiller
October 2023 – As an in-demand pediatric ophthalmologist and the mother of six children, Dr. Laura Heinmiller keeps a busy schedule. Her free time is precious. However, she devotes as much of it as she can to the Edina Soccer Association.
Heinmiller’s passion for that sport stretches back to her childhood in upstate New York. “When I was growing up, soccer was one of the few pure, consistent things that I had,” she shared. “Although we moved around a fair amount, soccer was my ticket to making friends and finding community all throughout my middle and high school years.”
Her growing skill clinched Heinmiller a roster spot at Villanova University, where she enjoyed an athletic career packed with highlights. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA tournament each of Heinmiller’s four years. During her freshman season, Heinmiller scored the Villanova women's soccer team’s first-ever goal at the tournament level. In later years, Heinmiller captained the team and participated in a Big East championship.
Heinmiller met future husband Joe, a native of Eden Prairie, on her first day at Villanova. The couple started their family while Heinmiller continued her studies at the prestigious Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. After graduation, an ophthalmology fellowship at the University of Minnesota allowed the Heinmillers to set down permanent roots in Edina – close to Joe’s extended family.
By happy coincidence, Edina is also home to the largest youth recreational soccer program in the entire state.
“The Edina Soccer Association is a nonprofit program that exists to make soccer accessible to everyone,” Heinmiller explained. “There are no tryouts. All are welcome.”
“We start with kindergarten and continue all the way through 12th grade,” she continued. This alone makes ESA different from most youth sports associations. “Most don’t carry it all the way through to high school graduation.”
Across all age brackets, the Edina Soccer Association (ESA) engages more than 2,300 youth athletes in its Spring/Summer League, plus 1,700 in fall programming. It also offers ample opportunities for adults to take part – on the field and off.
For the Heinmillers, it was perfect: a way to get their own kids active in soccer, while also making connections and giving back to their new community. “After all, soccer has been a springboard for me for so many of the wonderful things in my life,” Heinmiller reasoned.
Like many parents, particularly those with athletic backgrounds, Heinmiller volunteered her services as coach. She also leads by example, participating in ESA's burgeoning adult league.
Heinmiller redoubled that commitment in 2019, joining ESA’s Executive Committee as Vice President. Taking the next logical step, she accepted a one-year term as President in 2020 – unaware that it would be a tumultuous period for the organization and Edina generally.
“COVID-19 was tough on team sports and leagues, and ours was certainly no exception,” Heinmiller recalled. It also proved a unique opportunity for creativity. Reluctant to cancel spring 2020 activities altogether, ESA leadership reconceptualized the season as “Soccer in a Box.”
Executive Director Krista Gresham credits Heinmiller with shepherding the association through this abrupt pivot. “All registered athletes received a home delivery with equipment and a [personalized] uniform, combined with Zoom instruction and online videos to work on core skills at home,” she explained. “This program delivery option allowed ESA to retain fees already paid and to provide an engaging, high-quality experience for players” – maintaining a touch point while so many other extracurricular activities went dark.
ESA teams returned to the field that fall, albeit with social distancing rules, testing protocols and quarantine guidelines.
Heinmiller accepted a second term as President, both to offset months lost to the pandemic and as a nod to her invaluable professional background. “I was the only person on the board with medical experience so … was well positioned to seek updates from infectious disease [experts] and to field messages from parents worried about their child playing or not playing soccer.”
Gresham agrees. “Laura’s influence as a pediatric physician strengthened ESA’s reputation with members … as a place that practices ‘safety first’ but also appreciates the significance of keeping kids active.”
Heinmiller has since rotated out of the President’s chair, but remains active on the board as one of a dozen “age directors” (in her case, responsible for Pre-K and Kindergarten girls). She also enthusiastically coaches her own children. Five out of six either currently play or have graduated out of ESA.
“My youngest is 18 months old at the moment. That’s actually the one age group for whom we don’t have an ESA program – at least not yet!”
For her volunteer efforts, Mayor Jim Hovland presented Dr. Laura Heinmiller with the 2023 Mayor’s Service to Youth Commendation.