Greater Sudbury Soccer Club (GSSC) U-15 girls head coach Jeff McNeil has tried to continuously instill a balance with his athletes, but a recent team project really helped drive home the point.
Under McNeil's watch, the young ladies spent some valuable volunteer time over the course of this summer working closely with the special needs division, a grouping of very special young soccer talent who truthfully play for the love of the game.
In addition to providing some on-field assistance, players from the Impact took on the challenge of painting the goal posts at the Queen Elizabeth Public School field, home to the special needs program throughout the past few months.
Certified painters they are not. With easily as much paint ending up on the "artists" as the posts themselves, the event provided an upbeat team-bonding experience for the GSSC girls.
"We painted their goal posts all rainbow colours," 13-year-old Tiffany Hodgins said. "There were hand prints everywhere."
The idea for the painting session came about partly as a team need. Local businessmen Cecchetto and Sons offered to pay the team;s entry fee into the Sudbury Impact Soccer Tournament, staged at the end of July, in return for the girls taking on a community involvement project — brightening up the goal areas for the special needs group.
"At first, I thought we were just painting them white," said Samantha McNeil, who is now in her fourth year of organized soccer.
She said she found that sharing her soccer experience proved valuable, both to herself and the youngsters on the field. "We tell the players to try their best, have fun and make lots of passes."
The special needs division has now been around for a couple of years under the auspices of the Sudburnia Soccer Club. Involved initially as a co-coach with Darren Foy, co-convenor Cindy Rocca said there is a very special attachment for a group of children that play for all the right reasons.
"I think these kids don't take it for granted," she said on the evening of the final gathering, with pop, pizza and face-painting on the agenda."It's a nice chance for these kids to have a good time and meet other kids."
Though Rocca said her soccer knowledge is not necessarily world class, she understands full well that it really doesn't need to be.
"The action here is fast-paced and in lots of different directions," Rocca said with a smile. "These kids are sometimes playing for both sides. But it's fast and it's fun and it's exciting."
The Special Needs division is open to children aged four to 12. In addition to the support that was provided from Cecchetto and Sons, the project also received donations from A & J Home Hardware, which supplied all of the paint and painting supplies, as well as Lougheed's Flowers, which provided carnations to be handed out to kids and parents.