By Jonathan Weaver
Last weekend, hundreds of local children and pre-teens played their last soccer match of the season through the Richard G. Snyder YMCA in Kittanning.
A few weeks prior, however, a 10-12 year old team continued the fun with their tradition of a “Pink-Out” in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. October is “National Breast Cancer Awareness month” and is recognized by groups and sports teams of all sizes – including high school football teams.
The 14-player team that played in pink October 4 identify themselves as the “Ninja Gators,” according to Coaches Dakoda Fickes and Danielle Boback.
Fickes, a freshman Indiana University of Pennsylvania student studying exercise science, also assists the varsity team at Kittanning High School
Danielle, a Ford City High School senior, was also a member of the girls’ soccer co-op between schools this season and wore a pink striped-T shirt for the special game.
“This year, we had breast cancer awareness headbands. I think most of the players got one – girls would get pink and boys got white ones with the bands on them,” Danielle said. “I think a lot of them enjoyed (wearing) pink – something different for a change.”
Fickes and Boback, both 18, played together on the same YMCA soccer team for five years, Boback’s mother, Lori, said during a recent scrimmage. Danielle was the starting goalie on that youth team before Dakoda gave her a breather.
“The boys had no problems wearing pink – they put it on no problem,” mother, Lori, added.
The game was special for the Boback Family since Danielle’s grandmother also lost her battle with breast cancer about three years ago.
“When she was off from chemo all the time, she would come up when they played in Cadogan to watch Danielle and Dakoda play on their 10-12 team, and now they’re coaching a 10-12 team,” Lori said. “She used to love to come up and see the games.”
And the hour-game wasn’t about the final score (even though the Ninja Gators beat the Tornadoes 8-5), Danielle said.
“I think we did pretty well. They keep score, but it’s all in fun,” Danielle said.
“It’s all a learning experience,” Fickes added.
Lori praised the two coaches – who she guessed could be some of the youngest that volunteer for fall soccer. Two of the athletes are also Danielle’s younger brothers.
“The kids like the teenage coaches – they can relate to them,” Lori said. “The kids are real comfortable around them.”
Saturday was the last game of the season before YMCA soccer and Dek hockey begin. Many high school athletes volunteer to officiate.
YMCA Program Director Robert Law estimated there were about 275 children aged 4-12 years old involved in YMCA soccer the past few weeks – from the corners of Dayton to Vandergrift and the county seat of Kittanning – and said there are even more during the spring season.
“In the Spring, we eclipse 300,” Law said. “Once the season kicks off and the wonderful volunteer coaches have their teams, they have practice any day of the week, there are games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – it’s busy.”
Athletes also felt like a winner after being able to acquire a free soccer ball through the Michelin Soccer Program.
“Michelin is about more than just safe, reliable tires,” said Jason Strand, Michelin marketing manager. “We relish the opportunity to support those who support our business and to do our part keeping America’s youth active and healthy. That we have been doing this for 15 years shows Michelin’s dedication and gratitude to our customers.”
The company estimates that more than $18 million in funds and equipment to more than 3,000 youth soccer organizations has been donated during the past 15 years.
Law explained that he received about 300 certificates for the first-come, first-serve soccer balls. Tire rebates were also available through the program
“We look forward to the Michelin Soccer Program every year,” said Arnold Morris. “Who wouldn’t? The kids come in smiling ear to ear about getting their soccer balls, the parents get to take advantage of deals on superior tires and we get to be more involved in our community.”
Certificates were redeemable at Morris Tire in West Kittanning.
“They’re gracious enough to give us the opportunity to give the kids a free ball. That’s a great opportunity for them,” Law said.
Throughout each season, YMCA officials also have a “running tradition” of a soccer drive of used safety pads and equipment so that all children have the chance to play.
Because of the success of the program each season – which starts with Law sending flyers to each elementary school in the county – he maintained that soccer is a successful feeder program into junior high and eventually varsity soccer in the local school districts.
“Speaking to a few of the parents, I think the junior high definitely has more participation because of the Y here and hopefully that trend continues with the building of the new school.
We’re making an impact.