The DUSC U-12 team, bottom row, left to right: George Hirsch, ELon Sayles, Johnny OHara, Angel Ortiz-Riera and Nathan Miller; top row, left to right: Coach Clive Stultz, Andres Fernandes, Arik Pablo-Raviv, Spenser Brown, Connor Ronan-Faust, Daniel Sholtz, Matthew Cooke, Adam Miller and Campbell Chatterjee.
While most kids in the neighborhood dream of going to Disneyland during summer vacation, the boys of Downtown United Soccer Club are dreaming bigger dreams closing their eyes tight and imagining themselves playing a glorious game of soccer on the Coverciano Field in Florence, Italy, the hallowed ground of the Italian National Soccer Team.
Almost two years ago, the fantasy began as casual chitchat among the parents. Wouldnt it be great if these kids could get out of the city and away from all this stress, they concurred wistfully, observing that these resilient young boys were still reeling from the effects of Sept. 11. One parent quietly admitted to another, My son was stuck on a bus on the Brooklyn Bridge that day for countless hours and since then he wont set foot on a school bus, or even the bus to summer camp.
Another mother added that her 10-year-old son was grinding his teeth incessantly for over a year since 9/11, sadly, another manifestation of stress. Countless studies have been done on children and their response to Sept. 11, but any parent on this team could tell you getting back to normal was never easy and post-traumatic stress disorders were too familiar. Even now when an airplane flies over the roof at Pier 40 during practice, everyone stops and looks up with a sinking feeling.
It is no surprise that when the machinations began about sending the kids to play soccer in a foreign country, the parents had more in mind than just another summer trip. The little seed of an idea began to blossom into a full-fledged plan in the fall of 2003 when Cesar Markovic, Albert Sholtz and Bruno Cames of Downtown United found a soccer trip to Italy that is fully sanctioned by the Federrazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, Italys governing body of soccer. The boys will train every day and play four games of soccer, explains team manager Sholtz, enthusiastically. Most games will be followed by a dinner celebration with the other team and their families. In Rome the team will visit the Coliseum and the Roman Forum and go on a tour of the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters and the Vatican Museum.
Not only will the children soak up the history and culture, but they will experience a different style of play and training. In Italy the focus is on tactics and technique, says Nino DePaSquali, who played for the prestigious pro team ROMA in Italy. Players spend a great deal of time improving their skills, unlike in England and Germany where the emphasis is on physical training.
Coach DePaSquali hopes that the families will also learn something from the Italians about how much training a child should have when their bodies are still growing. Vitamins are a good thing, he notes, but if you take too many vitamins it is not good for your body. He firmly believes that children in the U.S.A. are doing too much physical training and playing on too many teams in too many games, causing a spike in knee injuries in younger players, a condition not seen in Italian youth soccer.
DePaSquali adds, It is not important to be able to run for three hours. It is important how you play. You can work on physical conditioning and train to death, but in the end you must know how to play soccer.
The Downtown United U-12 boys have been busy with multitudinous practices and games but between soccer sessions they are emptying their piggy banks and counting their coins. This team has been together for over four years and they feel strongly that they must raise enough money for all players to go to Italy, not just the kids who can afford the trip. Surprisingly, the boys are not worried that all camp activities will be conducted in Italian. Finding an Italian translator is not their chief concern, but rather they insist on traveling with someone who knows sign language in order to communicate with their star forward, Angel Ortiz-Riera, who is deaf.
The teammates have invented some fascinating hand signals and body language to communicate with Angel during the games and all the players have learned some sign language. However they are hoping that his mother, Lucy, will be able to travel to Italy along with the team to translate and make the trip exciting for Angel. Without Angel, we are simply not a team, says goalie Johnny OHara. We are not going to Italy without Angel.
Looking for sponsors is not an easy task in the current economy. The boys are holding a raffle where a $10 ticket will win two people a weekend trip to London, thanks to the generosity of travel company, Go Play Sports Tours. When you see the young soccer players pounding the pavement of Greenwich Village selling raffle tickets, yes, you can win a trip to London, but you can also be part of sending our neighborhood boys on a trip they will remember all their lives. Hopefully, when they see an airplane overhead it will not be worrisome, but rather the sight will trigger magical thoughts of meeting people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, who share the common bond of loving soccer calico, which you can bet is the first vocabulary word these boys learn in Italian!
Any individual or business interested in becoming a sponsor, may call 646-456-8453 or 917-853-5930. All contributions are tax deductible.