Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Outside in our courtyard the neighborhood kids have set up a soccer goal. It's one of those small pop-up goals that my own boys set up in the same courtyard ten years ago. Ours is now in Columbus, Ohio in the hope that it will encourage my grandsons there to be soccer players. The courtyard bears the marks the boys put on it over the years. There's still the hole in the middle of the courtyard with a soup can in it, where they attempted to create a putting green, and the rubber home plate that never got picked up and put away in the garage is now permanently frozen in the turf and well-used. The boys even went out in the courtyard this past weekend to throw around the baseball, then opted to head down to the soccer field to hit some fly balls. This weekend our subdivision pool opens for the season. And our lake serves as a fishing pond half the year and hockey rink for three winter months. It's a pretty idyllic neighborhood to tell the truth.
These types of opportunities aren't available to all kids. The boys have friends who grew up in Milwaukee in row houses with the nearest park too far away to be easily accessible. My sons went to high school in the city where the neighborhood park doubled as the freshman soccer field. The boys learned early on to keep an eye on their soccer balls because they had a habit of disappearing only to reappear flying through a hoop or rolling across the field in the company of the young boys who gladly chased loose balls across the street. For two summers Robbie played in an inner-city soccer league, which was not only competitive but filled with good company. The field had more dust than grass, but was surrounded by families cheering on their children and sharing picnic items. A local shelter donated the uniforms and some of the kids played in running shoes, but everyone loved the game and participated with heart and joy.
Every year I collect a minimum of a locker full of used and unwanted soccer equipment both from my own boys and others. Some of the soccer boots are too far gone to pass on, but many have good life left in them. Shorts, jerseys, balls, shin guards, and keeper gloves also have plenty of life in them. All over America and the world children play soccer without the benefit of this gear. They run barefoot in vacant lots kicking a coffee can or a crate. They mark goals with trash. Yet the fun they have and the commitment they express are no less intense than players with more monetary resources. The scenario holds true for other sports as well. Kids play stick ball with cans, basketball with any ball they can find and hoops that have chain nets or are self-created with the ingenuity born of desire. And every year perfectly good sporting equipment gathers dust in garages, sheds and attics all over America.
Several national organizations now collect this equipment to share with boys and girls both in the United States and around the world. Each spring I dig through the mountains of soccer gear that erupt in the garage and mudroom and assemble a box filled with well loved, but not much used equipment to donate. The task is easy, the results provide a non-lethal pathway to my car, and the rewards extend to dedicated players world-wide. It's fun too. We have pictures of a soccer team in Honduras wearing Bryce's team's old jerseys, kids in Iraq kicking around their old balls, Robbie's cleats on a boy in Mexico and an entire Guatemalan village outfitted in Wisconsin Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) t-shirts. Robbie and Bryce have both passed on cleats to the players in the inner-city league who promptly used them to beat Robbie's team! I don't really see it as charity because soccer creates a world-wide family, and families are notorious for hand-me-downs. We're just passing on to a soccer brother or sister the family belongings.
There is no shortage of opportunities for families to share their equipment. Sports Gift (www.Sportsgift.org
), National Alliance for Youth Sports (www.nays.org
) and Peace Passers (http://peacepassers.org
) all collect soccer equipment and distribute it nationally and internationally. You have to mail your equipment in, but several of the organizations will reimburse you for your shipping costs. United States Soccer Federation sponsors the Passback program and has collection days that it coordinates through state soccer organizations. These dates are usually advertised on your state soccer association website or at www.passback.org
. In addition, you can find local churches, National Guard stations, schools and colleges have their own collection sites for donations that will go to their particular charity. We have an Army friend who collects soccer balls to send to Iraq. There are organizations which allow you to sponsor an entire team so you can make it a club effort. Pick a day to collect used gear, pack it up and ship it to the organization. We kept up correspondence with the team we sponsored in Honduras, so we were able to provide gear to them for several years. They became our brother team and we shared accomplishments, stories and friendship. We fully expect to see one of those boys on the Honduran National Team come the Olympics. You can also check with your city's Parks and Recreation Department. Often they run leagues and depend on donations of equipment to keep the league members outfitted. Along with those resources, call up local shelters and city aid organizations. They may also sponsor teams and appreciate equipment donations. Like the team on the field, the larger world soccer team can pass the "ball" to other team members. It's not hard to do, and it can provide some very special extras for everyone involved.