When worlds collide: Fishtown and Kensington soccer clubs come together for a day of footy on Martin Luther King Day
All the players were aged 9 through 11.
As 26th Police District Capt. Krista Dahl-Campbell put it, sometimes there are “imaginary divider lines” in neighborhoods that prevent communities from interacting with each other.
This wasn’t beyond Steve Schmidt, the recreation leader at Towey Recreation Center. He knew that the rec center was right on the border of South Kensington and Fishtown, and that both the Kensington Soccer Club [KSC] and the Fishtown Athletic Club [FAC], used the facilities for their respective soccer programs. But they never interacted. So Schmidt thought up a solution. He’d bring the two clubs together, integrate the teams, and have them play a fun exhibition-style indoor soccer tournament at the rec center.
“I’ve been working with the department for 22 years now and every year we’ve done a Martin Luther King Day project, and every year it’s the same thing,” Schmidt said on Monday morning, the day of the tournament. “You pull out some paint and some paintbrushes and some rakes and some trash bags and people from throughout the suburbs come in to the inner city and they paint and they clean up and they feel good about themselves and they go back to their communities.”
For Schmidt and the community at large, this year would be different.
“I thought what a better way to celebrate what Dr. King’s all about than uniting two groups of people,” Schmidt said. “My idea was just to bring [the two clubs] together for a day. If they never see each other again, that’s fine, but now if they see each other crossing the street or on the El or what have you, they say, ‘Hey, I know that person.’ And how’d they meet? Through Dr. King. Through his day. And that’s what it’s all about, is bringing two different communities together for one purpose — for kids to have fun.”
The important thing to remember about the two communities is that they come from different financial backgrounds and skill levels, Schmidt said. The Fishtown community is a bit more affluent and also tends to produce more successful soccer players. All the players were aged 9 through 11.
“You look at Fishtown, their kids go on to play high school soccer at a higher level,” he said. “Roman Catholic is filled with Fishtown kids. You got guys who go on to play in college and professional soccer and so forth. So it’s a big difference in the quality of player, too.”
Kensington’s kids are not quite as competitive, according to Schmidt. However, “The quality of kid is the same,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to bring out today is the quality of the kid, not the quality of the soccer player.”
Everybody who participated in the event was asked to donate a canned good. Some people also donated other things, such as gift cards and diapers. All the proceeds will be donated to members of the Coast Guard who haven’t been getting paid during the government shutdown. Schmidt chose to donate to the Coast Guard because of his nephew, who serves in the branch.
“I think it’s important [for the two communities to interact] because kids from Fishtown and kids from Kensington — they go to different schools and do different after-school activities and if things like this didn’t happen, kids would never meet and have potential friendships,” said KSC soccer player Raquel Alamo-Rosas. “It’s just fun to play with people you never played with before because we all enjoy soccer and we all enjoy playing so it’s fun to bring separate [groups of] kids together.
FAC soccer player Jacie Clark said she enjoyed playing in the event. She said it allowed people “to show that you care and that you respect others.”
“I think it represents something that soccer does. It’s an international sport and it’s a sport played by people from all backgrounds,” said KSC Vice President Chris Munden, who also serves on Towey’s advisory council. “Here you have kids playing with kids from different neighborhoods and backgrounds. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and it’s a great thing for them.”
FAC soccer director TJ Farrell echoed Munden’s sentiment.
“I think it’s good that we brought two groups of kids together who probably don’t interact even though it’s close in proximity,” he said. “[These] two teams probably don’t know each other, but they live so close that they could probably be friends.”
Every child who participated received a prize for competing in the tournament, and the winning team got extra prizes. Prizes include soccer balls, jerseys and scarves. Donations were submitted by the Cardinal Dougherty Soccer Alumni and the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association. Additionally, officers from the city’s 26th district came out to donate food to the players.
“It’s always nice when kids can be together in a positive setting and do something that they all love and get to know each other differently on a different level,” Dahl-Campbell said. “You never know what can come of that. Friendships build from days like today, so we always like to support the neighborhoods and certainly when the recs do something like this it’s nice.”