For 40 years, the West Hempstead Chiefs Soccer Club has aimed to enhance character, community and the love of soccer. Many of the children who were part of the club have carried those lessons with them and today volunteer for the program.
“They enhance the program by being able to give the one-on-one attention and moral support,” said Loraine Magaraci, a member of the club’s executive board.
The teens who volunteer to teach children the fundamentals of soccer receive credit for hours of community service, and the club offers them college scholarships, but many take part in the program for other reasons.
“It’s good to give back, because when we were younger, we didn’t have trainers, since we played on regular teams,” said Sydney Reitz, a West Hempstead High School junior. “It’s great for them to get the fundamentals from older, experienced players.”
Reitz, 17, who plays for the high school’s varsity team, said that seeing a child’s improvement from week to week makes it worthwhile.
“I always manage my time well, because these kids look forward to it, so we make sure that we’re here for them,” said Thomas Cardillo, a 17-year-old senior who also plays for the high school’s varsity team. “It’s been a lot of fun, and they’ve made lifelong friends through the program.”
West Hempstead’s TOPSoccer, a community-based training program that aids young athletes with disabilities, has worked with the club for seven years in support of the program. “From the social aspect, soccer players that volunteer get to work with a player and have some social time,” said Lauren Lee, TOPS director for West Hempstead. “Whether they’re disabled or not, just being out there on the field builds confidence for all children.”
“I think it gives them a chance to play just like every other kid gets to play,” Magaraci added. “Some of them can barely walk, so kicking a ball is a really big deal.”
Like many of the current volunteers, Isabella Caldwell, a 16-year-old junior, has been part of the club for most of her life. She has trained children since 2015. One of the biggest things Caldwell teaches is keeping a player’s attitude positive, she said. “We teach them to always try, because sometimes they get discouraged when they don’t do it right,” she said. “Seeing their attitude change really makes a difference.”
Patricio Solar, a board member who coordinates the group’s travel team, said the program also teaches children to stay active.
“In times like now, kids just want to be home on their computers and smartphones,” Solar said. “But to come out for one or two hours to play is really healthy. There’s a lot of educational stuff they can gain from technology, but I think this is just as important.”
Matthew Perciballi, a 16-year-old WHHS junior, said that children have developed teamwork skills that help build relationships. “You’ll be able to have a whole bunch of friends at the same time,” he said. “It’s just nice to see them getting better and becoming friends.”
“When you come on the field it’s not just your school friends,” Magaraci said, “these are your soccer friends. Even if they come from different schools or communities, they all become one unit.”
A nonprofit organization, the Chiefs Soccer Club invites children from surrounding communities such as Malverne and Franklin Square to join. In-person registration for the spring season will take place at West Hempstead High on Feb. 11, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Online registration will be available on Feb. 18. Follow the club on Instagram @whchiefs for more information about its events and programs.