Blue Demons Reconnect With Urban Initiatives Soccer Program
Jan. 30, 2013
CHICAGO – Coach Craig Blazer and his DePaul men’s soccer team are taking the initiative in reaching out to the community in an effort to grow the game.
The Blue Demons reconnected earlier in January with the Urban Initiatives Health & Education Soccer Program as the student-athletes conducted a sort of minicamp with Chicago Public Schools soccer enthusiasts for one hour at Wish Field.
“Our 21 soccer players interacted with 30 children from fifth to eighth grade,” Blazer said. “Our guys conducted an hour-long instructional session and then the kids had lunch at Oscar Mayer School. Urban Initiatives contacted us and set up the event, and our players ran the camp themselves.
“Our players are finding out there are a lot of kids out there just beginning to learn about soccer. Our guys have a responsibility to grow the sport and have fun with it. They are starting to realize what a great opportunity they have here at DePaul.
“They were excited to work with Urban Initiatives and further its cause of making progress one student at a time. These school children are getting interested in soccer and eventually going to college.”
The visit to Wish Field opened many of the grade-school children’s eyes to the possibilities of a college education and how soccer could be an integral part of the college experience.
“The kids thought it was cool our players could schedule classes in the afternoon or evening to accommodate their soccer schedule,” Blazer said. “They had no idea you could get a scholarship to play soccer.
“We have been involved with Urban Initiatives for a number of years. Their school children have been attending games at Wish Field and bringing a tremendous amount of excitement and energy.”
While teaching at Byrd Academy in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood in 2003, Urban Initiatives co-founders James Dower and Daniel Isherwood saw the academic underachievement and poor health conditions that at-risk children must overcome in order to reach their potential.
As soccer coaches, they understood the genuine motivation that sports can generate and organized a before and after-school soccer program with donated equipment and nutritious snacks purchased out-of-pocket.
Students immediately embraced the chance to play in a safe and structured environment and be part of a team. They also worked harder in the classroom in order to meet Dower and Isherwood’s high academic expectations as playing soccer was contingent on classroom performance and behavior.
The Urban Initiatives Health & Education Soccer Program at 650 W. Lake St. is now serving more than 5,000 students at 22 schools in the Chicago Public Schools system. Urban Initiatives school children have experienced growth in academic engagement, health awareness and self-esteem since coming under the positive influence of this nonprofit organization.
“Urban Initiatives is part of a larger Chicago collaboration with the idea of using soccer to promote kids, wellness and education,” Blazer said. “Being at DePaul for more than a decade, I now have the opportunity to devote more time and resources into doing more community outreach programs.
“That in turn will help to stimulate growth in our program as well.”