Impacting Youth in Newark, NJ

(Guest post from Jason Webb, Soccer Shots Partner via The Daily Dribble)

If you’re like me, a typical week for you might include a couple of evening soccer practices at a nearby township park, dinner out with the family, carpooling in your minivan, and Saturday morning soccer games. The games where my kids play are held on grass fields which are lined and include goals. We have coaches and paid officials, concessions and public bathrooms, and our parks department or club provide these amenities at a low cost.

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This is not anyone’s typical week in Newark, NJ, a city just a few miles west of New York City known by many for its airport or its infamous riots in 1966. In fact, it would be unsafe to bring your children to a public park in the evening in many locations in Newark. Safer locations are fenced and gated. Few recreation departments have the resources to provide soccer fields. Even fewer offer community soccer programs.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the great work of the US Soccer Foundation by installing a Sport Court soccer field on the property of Avon Avenue Elementary School in Newark, NJ.

Avon Avenue Elementary School is located in the one of the most difficult wards in all of Newark, NJ and until recently, had recorded the lowest test scores of any school in the city. For these reasons, it has gained the attention of several organizations, including the US Soccer Foundation (USSF).

The USSF creates and supports programs which are designed to keep kids active and healthy. They guide children away from negative influences by providing them with safe and healthy places to play after school – the most dangerous hours of the day. Players receive attention and support from caring mentors and coaches who work to ensure that they develop into healthy and successful young adults.

The Foundation is working to build safe playing fields and bring their “Soccer For Success” model to economically disadvantaged communities nationwide.

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Through the generosity of a donation made to the USSF by Soccer Shots Global Goals, a safe playing surface has been constructed on the playground at Avon Avenue Elementary. This new court will host an after school soccer education program led by the Claudia Reyna Foundation and will include year-round, daily soccer programs offered to Avon Avenue Elementary students after school. For most of the kids who will participate in this program, it will be their first experience ever playing soccer.

As a representative of the Soccer Shots franchise community, which so generously contributed to the construction of this court, it was my privilege to represent Soccer Shots last week during the construction of this court. We started constructing the court in the morning and by early afternoon, the court was nearly complete. It’s an 85 foot long by 55 foot wide safe playing surface which will have lines and goals. Apparently, this surface is ideal for many sports (tennis, volleyball, etc.) but found its place in soccer as the official surface for futsal. In urban locations, it’s virtually impossible to maintain grass playing surfaces, and artificial turf is cost-prohibitive at nearly 6 times the cost of a Sport Court. According to the USSF, constructing this court on Avon Avenue’s property will allow for maintenance, protection, and daily use of the surface through the USSF and its partners. The court will be the property of the school’s, and it may be used for other activities during and after school.

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The best part of the day happened around 1:30pm. The field was near complete and a group of older kids (must have been around 12 years old) were out on the school yard. They were eyeing us up, tip-toeing on the field, and peppering us with questions about the field. One wanted know if it could be used for football. Others mentioned, “If it’s for soccer, is someone coming back to teach us how to play?” That was all we needed to hear. The 5 of us representing Soccer Shots and the USSF got out a bag of soccer balls and starting playing soccer with the kids right there on the court we had just installed. We taught a few of the older boys how to juggle and head back and forth. When the school bell rang, those boys were still practicing, didn’t want to leave, and were the last ones back into the school.

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I consider it a privilege to be a coach and to impact kids positively here in my local community. I also consider it an honor and a privilege to share resources and to support the excellent work of the US Soccer Foundation in Newark, NJ and in other cities throughout the United States.

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