In a city where crime all too often dominates headlines, a group of seventh and eighth graders did their part to generate some feel-good news Monday when they stepped onto a field in Chester to play a soccer game.
Played at STEM Academy on 10th Avenue just over a mile from Talen Energy Stadium, the game was the first at home for the newly formed Chester Clippers middle school team.
“A lot of people don’t think too positively of Chester so we’re trying to set a good example,” midfielder Damien Najdek said after the game, a 4-3 loss to Academy Park.
Like a lot of his teammates, Najdek started playing soccer five years ago when he brought home a flier from school for a program called Chester Upland Soccer for Success. The program was initially launched in 2012 through a collaboration between Widener University, Crozer Keystone Health System and the Philadelphia Union but has since become its own separate nonprofit organization.
The middle school team formed this fall as an outgrowth of the organization, which runs after school and weekend programs at sites across the Chester Upland School District.
Executive Director Brent Jacquette, who is the head men’s soccer coach at Widener, said this year’s team was a way to get the ball rolling and that the plan for next year is to bring the number of teams to four with seventh and eighth grade teams for both boys and girls. Adding the sport at the high school level is also a goal for the district.
“Now that we’re able to get this underway, we know the goods and the bads and the things we need to improve,” Jacquette said.
The significance of Monday’s game, the first the team has played in Chester after playing their first game away, wasn’t lost on Patricia Demiranda, who was roaming the sidelines on Monday cheering the team on and yelling out soccer terms like “show for him” and “send him.”
“My son would be so happy,” Demiranda said, referring to her late son William Trippley. “I used to walk past this field and pray about kids playing soccer here.”
Trippley, who starred at FC Delco and played college soccer at Widener, was murdered on Easter Sunday in 2004 a few blocks from his home. Demiranda has continued to be a passionate supporter of the game in Chester, cofounding the William Trippley Youth Development Foundation in 2008 and the Chester City United youth soccer league a year later.
“I love soccer because my son played but also because the kids have to depend on each other,” she said.
As one of the beneficiaries of the efforts by Demiranda and others, Najdek said being part of this new team has been a positive learning experience.
“I like the responsibility and teamwork it teaches you and it teaches you to be more sportsmanlike and to work with others well,” he said. “I like playing on this team.”
For head coach Mike Beadle, who is full optimism about his players and the future of the program, Monday’s game was mission accomplished.
“It’s a great group of kids that want to learn,” Beadle said. “We’re definitely starting from the ground up. It really wasn’t about winning today. I just wanted them to come out, pass, enjoy the game, and get the exposure.”
In a city known for basketball that has been slow to fully embrace the professional club that plays on its waterfront, this team of young Clippers is a positive step toward establishing a sport too often limited to families with means paying top dollar for their kids to play on sprawling soccer complexes in the suburbs.
“The main thing is it’s another opportunity for the kids,” said Durell Moore, a teacher and athletic director for the district. “This is a great start for us.”