Everybody knows that off-season training can be hellish.
Running, workouts and the ever growing heat of spring can all add up to long and painful days.
In the midst of their off-season, the Harvard men and women’s soccer teams took an afternoon yesterday to just have some fun and use their soccer skills in an unconventional way.
In the bright afternoon sun, the two Crimson teams took part in City Kicks and helped teach a number of urban elementary schoolers—in grades three through five—who participate in the New England’s SCORES program. SCORES is an eclectic after-school program mixing soccer with academic study and community service.
“Our relationship with New England SCORES has given our student-athletes a great opportunity to be positive role models for children,” said Gary Crompton, an assistant coach for the men’s team.
All in all, around 240 children from various public schools in the Boston Area were involved in the three-year old annual event. Yesterday afternoon was sponsored by Computer Associates in conjunction with Harvard University.
“College Kicks is a tremendous opportunity for urban kids to interact with college students,” said Kathy Fitzgerald, Executive Director of New England SCORES. “The day inspires our students to view college as an attainable goal, not as an impossible dream.”
For the players, it seems like the event was a good way to mix having fun with soccer and community service.
When asked if he thought being from Harvard and a varsity player meant that the kids would look up to him, freshman Charles Altchek said he was not sure if they were old enough to understand.
“They’re just having a lot of fun,” Altchek said. “It’s a lot of fun for us too.”
At 3 p.m.—when the festivities were supposed to begin—the kids were busy running around the field playing various sorts of games. In contrast, the men of the Crimson seemed a bit out of it—looking quite tired relaxing in the shade after getting up at 7 a.m. for off-season practice.
Minutes later, however, the players sat themselves down amongst the children and listened to sophomore Nick Tornaritis give a speech on working hard and playing soccer everyday.
His talk focused on going to college as the ultimate goal for the kids and the effort it would take to play soccer at a higher level.
“I basically played all the time with my dad.” Tornaritis said. “All that anybody needs is someone to learn from—this is the most important thing—it doesn’t matter who it is.”
Harvard men’s head coach John Kerr spoke next, emphasizing that the day was meant to be fun and relaxed.
“The best thing you can do today is have fun,” Kerr said. “Put a smile on your face.”
After some encouragement from Kerr, teammates and the children there, Tornaritis began to show off his juggling skills to the delight of everyone. Grabbing the tiny size-two ball, Tornaritis displayed a number of the tricks he has up his sleeve, from the “Around the World” to the “Rainbow.” With every new move, the kids all smiled and a number got up to try out their own moves with the ball.
One of the children even found an interesting parallel to Tornaritis dazzling display: “It’s like a Harlem globetrotter version of soccer.”
Within half an hour, seven teams had made it through the afternoon traffic and were practicing and playing games all over the fields, normally reserved for intramural sports.
At times, the boys and girls—from seven different schools and dressed in full uniform from their shin guards to their jerseys—seemed to overwhelm the soccer players who had awaken early yesterday for morning practice. The kids ran all over the fields and sidelines playing and rooting for their teams as the Harvard players refereed.
“I had to take a nap today,” Altchek said. “But it’s a lot of fun mixing volunteer work with soccer.”
And throughout the afternoon, the players mixed having fun and getting involved with the children. Everyone on the sidelines, from the relatives of the children to their usual coaches, were smiling at the students and kids playing soccer, even though they sometimes weren’t involved with any of the soccer games.
On one field, a number of the players from the Harvard women’s team not only spent time showing the children how to shoot and play goal, but just ran around playing various different games with the laughing kids.
On another section of the intramural fields, freshman Charles Hamilton was explaining to a group of kids how to set up your shot. After two attempts in which he overshot the goal, teammate and classmate Colin Barclay asked the kids if they thought Hamilton could hit the back of next with his next attempt. Betting the kids 10 pushups, Hamilton explained the importance of leaning forward to keep the ball down and then pulled his shot wide. The seated kids broke out in laughter and counted as he fulfilled his part of the bargain.
Kerr then jumped into the fun.
“Hey kids, what position do you think Chaz plays?”
After the kids all screamed “back,” Kerr started laughing and replied, “You got it.”
The Crimson will be back out in their uniforms this Saturday at 11 a.m. playing against alumni on Ohiri Field.
But too bad for them, come next week they will be back out doors at 7 in the morning for off season practice. And this time, there won’t be any more children.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.