Traps. Shots. Headers. Slide Tackles. Just a few of the soccer skills taught this summer to more than 1,000 kids at soccer camps held for inner city youth. The camps were conducted free of charge to all families and children ages 7 – 14 years of age.
Jerry McEvoy was looking for a sport that all the kids, both girls and boys, could get involved in. Soccer seemed to fit the criteria. In soccer, everyone can get out on the field, run and kick. McEvoy is the executive director of the Upper Room, a non-profit organization that works with youth groups in the Swope Park Corridor and adjoining areas of the city.
Students of the Upper Room participate in a variety of activities during the summer which include visits to swim parks, gymnastics, and lessons in art, music and dance. The Upper Room prides itself on providing a diverse and enriching experience for its students.
“This was a great for our kids. We look for opportunities to bring fun and fitness into our summer programs,” said McEvoy. “The great part about soccer is it can be played by all age groups. Getting our students to exercise is the key. If they can do it and have fun at the same time; we’ve got a winner.”
Studies have shown that regular and long-term participation in soccer greatly improves the overall health of growing children. This research shows sharp contrasts between the greater benefits achieved through routine, extracurricular sports participation and those available for most school children through physical education alone.
“We want the camps to just be the start. Our goal is to expand beyond the summer programs into a youth league,” explained McEvoy. “The next step is getting the underwriting and commitment from sponsors and coaches.”
Soccer is the number one youth participation sport in America and a leading contributor to the healthy lifestyle for millions. Interest in soccer is at its highest levels ever, with more than 19 million children, participating regularly. In fact, more children are playing organized soccer than football, basketball or baseball. Kansas City has one of the highest per capita participation rates of youth soccer in the United States.
To create the summer camps, three Kansas City non-profits, Heartland Soccer Association, Park Athletic Soccer Club and the Upper Room, joined forces to raise funds, acquire equipment and supply experienced coaches for the camps.
Shane Hackett grew up in Kansas City playing soccer. Hackett went on to play soccer on scholarship at William Jewell College and overseas. Now he heads up Heartland Soccer Association, one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the United States. His association took the lead on collecting gently used soccer balls, uniforms and shoes.
“Every talks about wanting to give back to the community. The youth soccer community really stepped up to make this happen,” explained Hackett. “It was a great feeling to see all these kids enjoying the game that has been such a large part in my life. For most of the kids this was their first exposure to soccer. I’m happy we can play a part.” Hackett believes the inner city soccer projects will grow rapidly once the word gets out. “People like to get involved in programs where they can make a real difference. We made huge progress in less than a year and we are just getting started.”
One of the goals was to deliver a solid camp program with highly qualified coaches. Craig Scriven recruited the coaches to work with the kids. Scriven is the Director of Coaching for Park Athletic Soccer Club and Head Coach for Leavenworth High School. “Our coaches had a tremendous time working with all the kids. Not only do we teach fundamental soccer skills but we want to instill a sense of sportsmanship and fun. The lessons learned on the field extend beyond the field and into life. This was tremendous start that I believe will grow into something big.” The core curriculum included basic soccer skill building with application drills and games.
“Right now we need additional sponsorship, coaches and large equipment; like goals,” stated McEvoy. “We are working with our partners to put this together now and are looking for help from corporations and individuals.”
For more information on the program or to donate used soccer gear, go to heartlandsoccer.net.