Bensonhurst – chock full of people of different races, nationalities and religious backgrounds – fits right in with the melting pot community that is New York City.
Meanwhile, it’s understood that while maybe not as popular in America compared to other mainstream sports, soccer is the world game – played in basically all parts of the globe.
So when you take the sport of soccer and mesh it with the melting pot Brooklyn community of Bensonhurst, that can only lead to a valuable experience.
Well, such is the case at St. Athanasius parish.
The St. Athanasius youth soccer program brings together players and their families from all corners of the world. The whole set-up is actually a microcosm of the Catholic faith in that the program is all-inclusive.
Youth clinics take place every other Friday evening, some Saturdays and every Sunday morning at the parish’s athletic complex on 53rd St. between 20th and 21st Aves. The goal is to teach the young children about the sport while fostering a budding passion for the game.
“With the little guys, we’re just trying to introduce them to soccer,” said one of the program’s head coaches Jamie Philpott. “Basically this neighborhood was pretty dominant with baseball, so now we’re introducing the soccer program and just teaching them the fundamentals and what soccer entails.”
Techniques and skills, such as passing, dribbling and shooting, are emphasized by the coaches to give the kids a basic feel of the game. The groups then split off into teams to play in scrimmage games.
Everywhere you look, there are families of all different backgrounds enjoying the welcoming atmosphere that St. Athanasius has to offer. Though some families may not be Catholic or from around the area, the kids in the program always feel right at home.
“It’s unbelievable,” Philpott said. “When you look at the multidimensional facet of it, you have Polish, you have Mexican, you have Irish, you have Italian, and there’s multiple religions involved in it also. It brings the community together, and there are no barriers and boundaries.”
Again, it certainly does help that people all over the globe play soccer, which serves as a unifying factor for the children enrolled in the program.
“Soccer as everybody knows is the most international sport that’s out there,” said Johnvito Marinelli, co-director of the youth clinics. “Baseball and basketball are very big in America, but internationally soccer is No. 1.
“Brooklyn and New York in general is a melting pot of every international country and nationality you could think of. So it’s very easy for a soccer program in Brooklyn to thrive.”
Unfortunately, we still live in a world where racial and religious segregation is an all-too-common phenomenon.
However, from a young age, the kids in the program see that everyone is created equal in the eyes of God.
“They get to play with each other which is great because they get to know whatever is happening on the outside is not really happening,” said the program’s other co-director Domenic Marinelli.
The sense of equality the children learn further adds to the benefits of the program.
“The kids pick up different things from each other, especially on the field,” said parent Matthew Alfonzo. “Soccer is the sport which brings everyone together.”
So while you may hear a few different languages being spoken in the stands while attending a clinic at St. Athanasius, everyone is simply cheering on the young athletes, and that is what youth soccer should be all about.
The only “color” that really matters – regardless of race or ethnic background – is the color of the kids’ jerseys as they play together as a team.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.