By KRISTEN LOTT
With bright yellow soccer balls and more than 20 anxious kids hopping up and down, the first of several We CAN Camps kicked off last Monday during a cloudy but warm afternoon at the Newburg Boys and Girls Club.
The camp’s leader, Louisville Lightning General Manager Nick Stover, seemed just as excited as the young players, asking the 7- to 13-year-olds who their favorite soccer team was. They shouted, “The Lightning!” and bragged of trophies they’d won or rules they knew about soccer, the most important being, “Don’t kick people.”
Since becoming the indoor soccer team’s first intern, Stover has been growing the Lightning’s schedule, players and fan base. Yet most importantly, he’s been expanding the team’s community outreach program, “Strike the City,” which inspired him to initiate the We CAN Camps.
“With ‘Strike the City’ I wanted to make it a goal to do outreach for each community and connect with different philanthropic organizations around the city and just develop these relationships that make the team a part of Louisville,” Stover said.
This summer, the Lightning has partnered with the Yum! Brands Foundation to provide soccer camps for middle and high school students sponsored by three Dare to Care’s Kids Cafes in Louisville: Newburg, Shawnee and Americana.
The Dare to Care Kids Cafes serve free evening meals to local kids in 14 Kentuckiana locations, held in various community centers. The cafes also provide academic and extracurricular opportunities to stay active.
Stover saw the opportunity to engage with the local community centers through the Lightning’s previous involvement with the Americana World Festival 6 v. 6 soccer tournament and Yum! Brands’ CANstand events. He explained that his course of action was obvious: “With all these kids already there and engaged and looking for things to do over the summer, it just seemed natural to try and get the (Lightning) players out and get them active.”
Stover, the Lightning and Yum! Brands have collaborated to initiate a fun way to educate kids on how to be healthy. “I think (the information is) different when it’s coming from a sports figure that is more so of a role model than coming from your teacher or your parent.” The players will receive an activity packet on nutrition along with a jersey-style We CAN t-shirt, complete with a number on the back.
Players from the Lightning and coaches from the Kentucky Fire Juniors Soccer Club have volunteered to share their expertise with the kids of the We CAN Camps. Each camp will be three days, focusing on the basic skills of soccer like dribbling, passing and shooting.
Many of the children in the Newburg, Shawnee and Americana communities don’t have the means to participate in club soccer camps or travel to indoor facilities. “We’re bringing a high-value product – these camps – straight to the people and giving it to underprivileged kids that couldn’t afford it otherwise,” Stover said about one of the goals of the We CAN Camps.
“We can make a difference. We can give back something to the community to make sure that malnutrition isn’t a big issue in Louisville,” Stover explained.
At the end of the summer, the “CAN” theme will continue during a celebration at the Mockingbird Valley Sports Complex, home of the Lightning. The event will be open to the community, celebrating the We CAN Camps with a canned food drive.
The three camps will be held as follows:
Newburg Camp – June 11-13, 2-4 p.m.
Newburg Boys and Girls Club
5020 Indian Trail
Louisville, KY 40218
Shawnee Camp – June 18-20, 2-4 p.m.
Shawnee Boys and Girls Club
317 N. 38th Street
Louisville, KY 40212
Americana Camp – June 26-28, 2-4 p.m.
Americana Community Center
4801 Southside Drive
Louisville, KY 40214
Neighborhood House camp – dates still TBD
201 North 25th Street, 40212