One hundred eager soccer players gathered at the Fields of Leesburg apartments Friday to participate in Soccer Fiesta, a free event that is part of Leesburg’s Recreation Outreach to Community Kids initiative.
The event is catered to underprivileged kids ages 5-18 from around the town, and was a joint effort of ROCK, Loudoun Soccer and the Virginia Youth Soccer Association’s Soccer Across America program.
Marcelo Gangotena, VYSA committee chairman, said the event works to give at-risk youth an opportunity to engage in a fun, organized activity. “It’s positive because it keeps kids out of trouble and away from drugs, gangs and obesity,” he said. “Soccer is so cheap anybody can play and there are no physical requirements.” The programs also offer financial assistance to low-income families that cannot afford to send their kids to a VYSA or Loudoun Soccer camp.
During the three-hour event, Gangotena along with volunteers from the Loudoun 96 Red and Black teams, and area high schools taught the youngsters basic soccer skills. Players were split up by age groups and spread out onto fields throughout the apartment grounds. The boy and girl players, diverse in age, culture and gender, didn’t hold back when it came to scoring. But through the competition and teamwork, they built friendships, Gangotena said.
Participants were treated to CiCi’s Pizza, donated by the Leesburg eatery, drinks, snow cones and T-shirts. Each received a medal or trophy, donated by Crown Trophy in Ashburn, for their participation.
This was ROCK’s second time hosting the Soccer Fiesta. It was first put on in 2012 but this time around organizers moved the time from 1-4 p.m. to the early afternoon to avoid playing under hot conditions.
ROCK, in conjunction with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Leesburg Police Department, organize free events and activities for disadvantaged kids. The organization recruited some of its past members, including 18-year-old Rubin Owusu, to return as volunteer coaches.
It’s important for disadvantaged kids to be mentored by teenagers who may have come from the same neighborhood and graduated and are succeeding, according to Belinda Hyde, sponsorship and fundraising manager for Loudoun Soccer. “It’s a way for them to get connected with something,” she said.
While not all of the players walked away with a first place prize, the elation was written on their faces as they showered their mentors with hugs in gratitude.