HOLIDAY — Cheers and clapping enveloped Anclote High School’s football field as elementary-age students from high-poverty schools in the area got the opportunity, many for the first time, to participate in a team sport outside of a physical education class.
Starting in September of this year, Gulfside Elementary School partnered with members of Generations Christian Church to begin One Community Soccer Now for 71 Gulfside K-5 students and Paul R. Smith Middle School sixth graders.
Students practice Tuesday or Thursday, depending on which team they’re assigned to, and compete Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Anclote High School on teams coached by school and church volunteers.
“These kids have never had the opportunity to play an organized sport in their life, and are having a blast,” said Gulfside principal Chris Clayton.
The eight-week program, organized by the non-profit arm of Generations Christian Church, called One Community Now, will end Nov. 16 with an awards ceremony and trophies for each child.
Sponsorships from Hynundai of New Port Richey, Auto Nation of Clearwater and various private donors made it possible for the church to purchase soccer nets, soccer balls, t-shirts and personal gear, like shin guards and cleats. Each student paid a small fee to participate based on whether they received free or reduced lunch, ranging from $25 to $45, which is much less than area leagues charge for membership to a team.
They also hope to partner with other local soccer leagues in the future, like the West Pasco Youth Soccer Association, for donations of use cleats, shin guards and field equipment.
“The whole purpose, why we started this, is that there are a lot of low-income, struggling families in this community and regular sports programs are too expensive for them,” said One Community Now director Patti Templeton.
In addition to teaching students the ins and outs of the game, they also focus on teaching them sportsmanship, healthy eating and fitness, and chracter traits like honesty, Templeton said.
The students were divided up into ten different teams and each were named after state colleges, like the “Bulls” and the “Gators.”
“We named them after college teams to inspire them to think toward the future,” Templeton said. “We want to build that whole thing of ‘Wow, I could actually go to school one day’.”
One Community Now partnered with the Pasco County school district and the three local schools to provide the pilot program. The hope to launch another eight-week program in early spring.
Templeton said in addiiton to providing disadvantaged students an affordable outlet for fun team sports, it also serves as a way to get parents more involved in their children’s lives. Several of the coaches on the field were parents of children participating, like Mario Sanchez.
“Our kid is growing up here and we want to give something back to the community,” Sanchez said. “We want to make sure they’re walking the right pathway.”
In addition to hosting programs like the soccer league, One Community Now does regular community service projects, such as clean-ups at local schools and in community neighborhoods, and hosting school supplie drives for teachers and students.
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