On a cold, rainy Friday evening, kids kicked soccer balls to each other in the parking lot of Chimborazo Elementary School in Richmond’s East End. “Old Town Road” played loudly, and the children sang along without letting it slow down their games.
This was Street Soccer, an event hosted by the University of Richmond women’s soccer team. The players organize pickup games for children the last Friday of every month. In addition to the games, there is a dance party at the end of every event, and the children recieve snacks and candy.
The event was created by Katie Tritt, a junior forward on the soccer team from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
While Tritt and two other UR players were in New Zealand this past summer, the program they interned for held a street football event, which is what Tritt got the idea from, she said.
During the first event in New Zealand, Tritt was already beginning to think about starting a similar program at UR, she said. She believed the event would have the most impact in lower-income neighborhoods.
Through research, she identified the three elementary schools in Richmond with the highest number of students on free and reduced-price lunch. She reached out to the schools and was initially disappointed that only Chimbarazo responded, Tritt said. But that disappointment quickly dissipated once she began the events, she said.
The first event on Sept. 27, 2019, drew 25 children. In addition to soccer goals and balls, Tritt brought candy, snacks and water bottles, paying for everything herself.
Now parents of the Chimborazo students, businesses and other people in the Richmond area are donating snacks and money for the program, Tritt said.
Tritt’s goal for fall 2020 is to have Street Soccer fully funded by donors and sponsors, she said.
The members of the women’s soccer team help set up the equipment for each event and supervise the children’s games. One of the players, redshirt junior Alyssa Walker, brings the team’s speaker and plays music from her phone.
Tritt and her teammates have the kids line up and divide them into teams, rotating them multiple times throughout the evening. They allow the children to play freely, without any coaching or critiques, and interfere only if someone gets hurt.
Some kids will fall and immediately get back up, but others are more shaken and will start to cry, Tritt said. The other children always check to see whether they’re OK, and once one of the UR soccer players brings them a snack, the kid will be ready to get back in the game.
Kate Johnson, a player’s parent, saw a flyer for Street Soccer in the elementary school and knew her son Parker would be interested, she said.
“He loves soccer,” she said. “So to have something that is casual that he can just jump in, there's no high stress, it’s great.”
For the December event, Tritt got winter hats for all the children and attached notes to them that said how thankful she and her teammates were to be in their lives and that they would see them all next month.
“Some of these kids grow up in environments where they don’t have consistency,” Tritt said.
“The point of [Street Soccer] is to support and love, really love, the people around us, and to ultimately be a constant in these kids’ lives.
“If I say I’m going to show up for you the last Friday of every month, I’m going to be there.”
At every event, Tritt gives two pieces of candy to each child and tells them that one is for them and the other one is to give to a friend who could come with them to the next game.
Street Soccer has had as many as 50 kids in attendance, Tritt said.
“Katie is fantastic,” said Nicole Pacapelli, an assistant UR soccer coach. “She’s a great networker, she’s super enthusiastic, has high energy. So it doesn’t surprise me that it’s worked out and been a great event.”
Tritt emphasized how important the UR soccer players are to the project. All 36 women come to every event, Tritt said.
“If my team didn’t come, it wouldn’t happen,” she said. “If the kids didn't come, it wouldn’t happen. If the school never reached back out it would not have happened.
“So I’m just incredibly grateful for everyone who has played any part in Street Soccer. Because their part has been bigger than they may think.”
Contact contributor Jada Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.