Last week, amid the bustle of the school year's end, soccer players from Nathanael Greene Elementary celebrated the end of their first season of the Work To Play program. Packed into a kindergarten classroom with tiny chairs, it was easy to see how much the Greene team had grown in the last eight weeks.
Sitting quietly in their chairs, the team burst into applause when each player's name was called to receive a certificate and a trophy, and the applause turned to shouts of delight when each player received an Urban Initiatives cleat bag, ball, and uniform.
Located in the near South Side neighborhood of McKinley Park, Greene fits right in with the other 19 Work To Play Program schools. 91% Latino and over 95% low-income, Greene school community has many obstacles to overcome. Luckily, the teachers, staff, and principal Mr. Heidkamp are all extremely engaged in their students' lives, and their values mesh nicely with those of Urban Initiatives. These are the perfect circumstances for a great relationship, one that will continue to grow in coming seasons.
Even with all the new gear, the focus was on the symbols of their first season together. Players tucked their certificates safely in their folders, while Raul, softly and mostly to himself, mused, "I've never gotten a trophy before!"
"Now I can practice soccer all summer long," Angel shouted, and began engaging coach Andy on the finer points of summer hydration if he were to spend all of his waking hours practicing the rollback, the Messi, and the newly-mastered Maradona.
Coach E dismissed the class with a message to maintain the healthy lifestyle they'd practiced all spring with the soccer team. The Greene team will be back next year to hone its soccer skills, but more importantly to support each other in beginning to develop healthier eating habits and becoming better people.
Have a great summer, Greene!