On Friday evening, roughly 60 soccer players stormed the field at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, but the neon-colored cleats trotting up and down the pitch did not belong to the members of the Stony Brook men’s soccer team or their opponents from Fordham University.
Instead, children ages six to 13 from local club teams gathered at the midfield line in preparation for an hour-long youth clinic lead by Stony Brook’s men’s soccer team.
“Are you guys ready to have some fun?” head coach Ryan Anatol asked. He was met with a resounding “yes” from the enthusiastic young crowd.
This is the sixth year the men’s team has hosted their spring festival, which consists of a youth clinic and recruitment day for juniors in high school looking to play for Stony Brook, followed by an off-season game. The day of community outreach also doubles as a fundraiser, with all proceeds from admission, registration fees and raffle tickets going to the team.
“We’re fortunate to be part of an awesome community,” Anatol said. “There’s a lot of things we could do from a fundraising standpoint but this all ties back into the game, into the program, into the crowd support and building relationships.”
While parents bundled up in the bleachers, struggling to stay warm, their kids appeared to be unaffected by the cold temperatures, sprinting back and forth in shorts and T-shirts without a care in the world.
“I like soccer because you get to run a lot and be energetic,” noted nine-year-old Noah Rosa. He found out about the spring festival after the men’s players held a free clinic for his travel team West Babylon Chelsea, something they do for various teams in the area to help spread awareness.
Players divided the kids up into eight stations, each featuring a game targeted at fine-tuning a different skill. At one station, kids were asked to dribble around in a confined box, helping them to focus on tight ball control. At another, the group practiced what to do during a breakaway, giving them a chance to take shots with a goalie in net.
Hosting programs like this allows the team to leave a lasting impact on young athletes.
“After attending one Stony Brook sponsored event, many of the children choose to come back for more,” Anatol said. “That’s the big picture, to get kids on campus, to get kids to enjoy our program.”
This was the case for 10-year-old Ryan Geary, who has been attending the annual clinic for two years now.
“The players were really nice and helpful,” said Geary, who plays for local soccer team the Smithtown Titans.
In addition to the spring festival, Anatol also hosts a series of summer camps for young players.
“We have seen kids that progress through our summer camps into our elite camps… and that ultimately come to Stony Brook,” he said. “It’s awesome to see that growth and development over time.”
Although the clinic strives to help the kids improve as players, Anatol feels that the team’s ultimate goal in that hour is to share their love for the game.
“We try and make sure that when they leave, they enjoyed their time,” he said. “If they enjoy what they do and enjoy the sport, they’re going to continue to play it.”