Buffalo Soccer Club: Laying the Soil
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • July 12, 2011 @ 6:48pm
Aside from Dyngus Day, Buffalo Central Terminal discussions, the really cool Adam Mickiewicz Library and the Broadway Market, Buffalo’s East Side is mostly ignored. It’s perceived as an unsafe area—which it can be, at times—and is littered with worn down buildings and vacant churches. The popular response has been to turn a blind-eye to the section of Buffalo that needs the most help.
Just like any other glossed over, tattered community though, a little trust and a vision can plant seeds of promise. When the Buffalo Soccer Club was introduced by executive director Tom Garigen in 2007, families were wary of the not-for-profit organization. Was there a hidden agenda? Why should they consider participating in soccer, an unfamiliar sport to many? Frustratingly, despite feverish attempts to publicize a soccer clinic at Roosevelt Park (just off the Kensington), no one showed.
“We weren’t even really planting seeds [of soccer in the East Side],” Garigen admitted. “We were putting the dirt down.”
Undaunted, Garigen and program director Anna-Lesa Calvert pressed on with planning a house league for kids between 4 and 12 years old. Although only seven pre-registered, the program earned staying power through the initial players—who, after enjoying the first couple sessions, told their friends. By the end of the first house league season, the group expanded to 50, and soccer was no longer foreign to the East Side.
A cluster of motivated volunteers emerged from the woodwork—take Lauren Hanna, a local club soccer coach with a sudden urge to help the program grow. Over the past two years, Hanna and an assortment of others have enriched the lives of East Side children through sport.
“Personally, the highlight is the end of the day when the kids come up and hug you, remember your name every week, tell you how much fun they had and how they get so excited to come there,” Hanna explained. “It’s a very gratifying job to know that for those two hours, they can leave behind whatever is going on in their personal lives and have fun.”
Through the time of volunteers like Hanna, Garigen and Calvert’s commitment and a few calculated risks, Buffalo Soccer Club has grown rapidly; over 400 kids have participated in the program over the four year span. The organization now features three travel soccer teams—a boys under 10 team, a girls under 10 team and a girls under 12 team—and three kids have developed so quickly that they’ve joined Empire United Buffalo, the premier soccer club for which Garigen is director of coaching.
Problems still remain, though. Desperate hunts for field space and the unbearably long permit process for pitches have been challenges, but the program continues to chug along, bringing joy to a struggling part of the city. Buffalo Soccer club is one example how ambitious visions, when paired with persistence and patience, can reverse hopeless circumstances.