Hundreds of Union City students turned Jose Martí Freshman Academy’s athletic field into a rainbow of multicolored soccer jerseys as they braved the blazing heat last Saturday during the New York Red Bulls 2012 free soccer clinic. Professional English and American players and coaches taught kids in the school’s summer soccer program what it takes to play big, play well, and perhaps play for pay later on. The soccer camp, which will be held later in July, is offered to kids age 4 to 16 and caters to any skill level.
Coaches from the school program – whose enrollment maxed out at an unprecedented 672 students this year – cooled kids down with upside-down gallon jugs of water with holes poked in the caps in impromptu shower fashion.
“It’s an easy sport to learn, and everyone can participate.” – Jose Renteria
For kids whose ability proves to be particularly exceptional, they stand the chance of possible future recruitment to the academy level and eventually, to the Red Bulls professional first team.
“I just love this area,” Rigby said of the surrounding community, which has a high percentage of Hispanic residents. “A lot of the kids are more receptive to soccer, because they watch it at home. They all have their favorite teams, and they’re so enthusiastic. I love it.”
Soccer and community
After signing hundreds of jerseys, Rigby, fellow coach Elyas Tasci, and a group of elementary schoolers hit the field to hone their skills. Cristian Velasquez, 7, was one of them. He’s played soccer for two years and loves it.
“My favorite thing is to dribble and fake people out,” he said. “I step down, push it back, and go around them,” just like the players on his favorite team: Chile.
Natalie Marte, 10, and her 11-year-old sister Brenda were new to soccer and joined the city’s program in April, but they were already hooked by the time Saturday’s event rolled around.
“I wanted to try something new,” Brenda said. “So I signed up for soccer, and I really enjoy it.”
Her sister agreed.
“I like working with a team,” Natalie explained. “Sometimes we run so hard our feet start burning, but when you make a goal everyone is so happy.” Like Cristian, she also enjoys “faking people out,” which happened to be her favorite move, she said.
Residents and soccer coaches Gloria and Joseph LaMorte, whose 6-year-old son Emile is an avid player, are in their second season with Union City soccer. Though they had never coached before, they took on the task and eventually became certified because they believe in the importance of participating in their son’s school activities and giving back to the city they live in.
“We encourage parents to get involved with their kids,” Joseph explained, “Either on the smaller level of simply getting them here or on the larger level of volunteering. Victor [Mezzina] and Jose [Renteria] have really taken this league to another level.”
Mezzina and Renteria run the Union City Soccer Recreation program.
“The parents have done a great job getting their kids to practices and games,” Gloria added. “We live in a working-class community and that can be tough.”
“Our maximum enrollment was 600, but the kids wanted to play,” Renteria said. “And the mayor [Brian Stack] wanted everyone to get a chance, so we expanded.”
Renteria is a lifelong soccer player and once coached at Rutgers University. He hails from Argentina: a country where “when you’re balling, you’re balling with soccer,” he laughed.
He has seen the inner city soccer program grow tremendously over the years. In fact, this year was the first time the city took over, whereas before it was run by way of private clubs.
“It’s an easy sport to learn, and everyone can participate,” he said. “They learn to get along with other kids, and they share their different cultures, too. Some come here speaking no Spanish, or no English, and together they learn from each other.”
Renteria loves when his students’ parents show up to games, because the audience fills with soccer jerseys representing so many different teams.
“Of course you root for the country you love most, but in the end you support each other,” he said.
For more information on the Union City Soccer program, call (201) 348-5747. For more information on the Red Bulls Academy, visit redbullsacademy.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org