Men's soccer and Future for KIDS: a win-win

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Cole Parker
GCU News Bureau

Chloe Hart (left) and Rital Neyaz (center), both 11 years old, became fast friends at the camp.

Eleven-year-old Rital Neyaz’s favorite part of the Future For KIDS Soccer Camp this weekend at Grand Canyon University -- she’s fairly certain of it: when the soccer players teaching the camp actually encouraged her to aim a soccer ball right at them. Right at them, she said, with kid-glee sparkle in her eye.

Chloe Hart of Phoenix, also 11, concurs: “I’d have to agree with her -- Station 1A. You get to kick someone in the face with a soccer ball,” she said with a laugh. “Well … you get to shoot it at them.”

Rital and Chloe were thick as thieves even though they just met that morning.

That kind of bonding and sheer kid joy was what coach Schellas Hyndman was looking for at the camp. It was the first time the GCU men’s soccer team hosted an activity like this for Future for KIDS.

“Here’s what I want you to do,” Hyndman told the more than 160 campers, ages 7-12, who signed up for the free event. “I want you to have a great day today. I want this to be a special day for you.”

Be kids, he said. Have fun.

But Hyndman also wanted to plant a seed.

Men's soccer coach Schellas Hyndman wanted one thing for the youth at Saturday's Future for KIDS soccer camp: Have fun. But he also spoke about good sportsmanship, working hard and the value of getting an education.

While few at this age are even thinking about college, he challenged them to look at the soccer team players who were helming the half-dozen stations, where campers learned everything from passing to shooting and dribbling.

“As they (GCU men’s soccer players) got older, they started enjoying soccer. They thought, 'Maybe I can go to college. Maybe I can get a soccer scholarship or maybe I can get an academic scholarship.' That education that you get opens the door for you the rest of your life. Without that education, your opportunities are closed. But with an education, you can dream big.

“Everything you’re doing today,” he said, “is to help you get in that door.”

Helping children open those doors is the calling of Tempe-based Future for KIDS. The nonprofit invests in children through camps -- such as Saturday’s free-admission soccer camp at GCU. But it also offers mentor-driven programs outside school hours. Future for KIDS trains and places mentors, including several Lopes who volunteer for the organization. The nonprofit emphasizes academics, athletics and ethics to improve the lives of youth who face adversity.

“I was talking to Coach (Hyndman) about that -- academics, athletics, ethics -- and that’s very important to him, too,” said Madonna Bistany, Future for KIDS Executive Director. She emphasized how GCU’s goals very much align with Future for KIDS goals to build up the community.

Defender Julien Armaroli (right) helped out campers with more than just soccer skills.

Hyndman, too, took the opportunity to build up the community of children before him as he spoke about academics, athletics and ethics: “Doing it (sports) the right way is to do your best … to be fair, not to be a cheater, not to be a person who makes excuses when you don’t win. … Compete with fairness. Don’t make fun of people. When you win, you can win with class, with grace."

Future for KIDS touts a history with GCU, having partnered with the men’s basketball team for a similar mentor-driven camp a few years ago.

“It was fantastic,” Bistany said, as children behind her shot soccer balls at goalkeepers.  “So now we’re continuing with soccer.''

Campers moved through six stations, learning everything from dribbling to shooting, passing and goalkeeping.

“It’s been one of our goals with GCU to serve the kids in the neighboring community surrounding the University,” Bistany said. “It was one of our goals to get here and engage with the soccer team and Coach to provide an experience, to bring kids onto a college campus, to get the kids in the surrounding neighborhoods over here for a wonderful, memorable experience so they feel a part of the GCU community.”

Zoyla Nava of Phoenix, whose 9- and 10-year-old sons, Eric and Israel, zigged and zagged on the practice field, feels a strong sense of community through Future for KIDS. Her daughter participated in the nonprofit’s programs, and now her two sons have joined the fun.

Their school, Ignacio Conchos Elementary in south Phoenix, offers Future for KIDS programs after school on Tuesdays. Participants create arts and crafts, are educated in an anti-bullying program, and learn how to be social.

Campers took aim at some of the GCU players, who were willing targets, including forward Calvin Kissi (left) and freshman forward Bert Wilton.

“I really appreciate the program,” Nava said. She credits her daughter’s interest in sports to Future for KIDS. And with her sons, “It helps them out with their self-esteem. I hope they never get rid of the program. It would be kind of devastating for them.”

Fran Meador of Phoenix heard about the soccer camp through the I.G. Homes Branch of the Boys and Girls Club and signed up her son, 11-year-old Darwin. He loves soccer, she said.

It isn’t the first time GCU has been a part of her family. Her daughter, a senior at Alhambra High School, has received academic help at GCU’s Learning Lounge.

Margit Tirpak broke out in a big smile on the track surrounding the practice field as she watched her grandson, 7-year-old Logan Cox, line up for soccer exercises, his long yellow socks in tow.

Freshman Mitch Stevens gave plenty of encouragement and high-fives.

“It gives them a whole other dimension of the sport in working with actual athletes that are doing this,” she said.

Hyndman said camps like these wouldn’t be possible without the willingness of his players.

Men's soccer team goalkeeper Michael Haynes, a freshman sports management major, said the players tried to put themselves in the mindset of the campers and, in the end, they just wanted to have fun.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about this event is to just interact with the kids and teach them simple fundamentals of the game -- and just being able to see them happy,” he said.

GCU men's soccer player Ariel Aguas, a sophomore finance major and recent transfer from Phoenix College, taught campers about looking for openings on the field and finding a way to maneuver through those openings.

Future for KIDS campers and GCU players took time out for a group photo.

“These are great kids. I think the camp is a good way to encourage them … and also to provide an opportunity,” Aguas said. He hoped the campers might see themselves in GCU’s soccer players. “They can see we have the same goals and the same experience about soccer.”

Future for KIDS volunteer Breana Cash said what she loved about her time at the camp was seeing the children bloom: “A lot of these kids were shy and wouldn’t talk. But now they’re super warmed up and are open to being cool with each other and us, which is really great. It’s an amazing program.”

Tirpak loved that the camp was on a college campus.

“It’s great for everybody to see this can be your future. Nothing can hold you back if you do some hard work,” she said, echoing Hyndman’s talk about putting in the hours, working toward academic or sports scholarships and assuring they get a good education: “The way that you win more than you lose is to work at it,” he said, much like his soccer players.

Hyndman left the campers with a little encouragement he hoped they would take with them long after Chloe Hart, Rital Neyaz and the others aimed their last soccer ball at GCU’s soccer players. He hoped they would aim for something more.

Hyndman (right) told campers, when someone tells them they can't make the soccer team or go to college, respond with, "I CAN."

“When somebody says to you, you cannot make the soccer team, you say to them, ‘I CAN.’ When somebody says to you, you cannot do well in math, what do you say? ‘I CAN.’ When somebody says you can’t ever go to college, what do you say? You say, ‘I CAN.’ And when somebody says you can’t go to GCU, what do you say? You say ‘I CAN.’”

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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