LAKE BARRINGTON – Teamwork wins soccer games. For Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan and nearly 100 young fundraisers, teamwork accomplishes so much more – more programs, more equipment and more confidence for those in need.
Morgan visited the Lake Barrington Field House on Sunday to meet the dozens of young soccer players who helped her and the Illinois Youth Soccer Association (IYSA) raise more than $35,000 for underprivileged, inner-city athletes.
“It’s vital to keep kids active and busy,” Morgan said. “But to do that, they need uniforms, soccer balls and a field to play on.”
The IYSA began its Soccer for Success program in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Authority in 1994. This program annually serves nearly 1,000 at-risk children living in economically disadvantaged, urban Chicago-area communities.
IYSA Executive Director Mary Jane Bender said the association’s goal is to create more opportunities for children in need, and Sunday’s Lake Barrington fundraiser ultimately will fund the entire Soccer for Success program come next fall. A similar fundraiser was held with visiting soccer star Abby Wambach last year in Libertyville, and Bender said it worked wonders for the program.
“We’ve been able to provide more kids with uniforms, allowing them to play competitively,” Bender said. “Some Soccer for Success players who lost every single game their first year took second place in their division this year.”
Both Bender and Morgan stressed that developing confidence is vital for young players.
“We want to use the sport of soccer as a vehicle to develop confidence,” Bender said. “We spend money to develop and educate coaches as mentors who understand and respect any culture these young players are coming from.”
Morgan said that soccer is a mental sport and, therefore, confidence helps.
“My one word of advice to young players would be to have fun, work hard and stay confident,” Morgan said. “It’s great to see how motivated these girls are and how much it will pay off.”
Every child raising at least $250 for this year’s Soccer for Success fundraiser was rewarded with a meet-and-greet and photo with Morgan, autograph and lunch. The top 64 fundraisers were invited to play a soccer match against Morgan and the top 10 sat at Morgan’s lunch table.
The fifth top fundraiser, Lake Barrington resident Jessica Inman, raised $3,550 with one goal in mind – to make the top 10 and play soccer with Morgan. All top 10 fundraisers raised more than $1,500 each.
Eleven-year-old Inman has been playing soccer since the age of 4. She said she would like to grow up to play on the U.S. national team, just like Morgan.
Meeting Morgan, Inman told the star that she is already able to juggle a soccer ball more than 562 times without stopping. When Inman asked Morgan how many times she can juggle, Morgan joked, “Not as many as you.”
Jessica’s mother, Maureen Inman, said Morgan’s humble personality makes her a great role model for her daughter and other young players.
“She’s very approachable and supports great causes,” Maureen Inman said.
Bender stressed that one of the Soccer for Success program’s key components is to provide an outlet for at-risk children to keep out of trouble.
Asked what kept her out of trouble as a child, Morgan said her parents and a busy lifestyle played a large role.
“I wanted to make my parents proud,” Morgan said.
And she continues to do so.
At just 24 years old, Morgan is a starter for the Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, as well as the U.S. Women’s national team. She was the youngest U.S. player at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Morgan was named the 2012 Female Athlete of the Year after scoring and assisting game-winning goals in the 2012 London Olympics. When she’s not traveling or practicing, Morgan said she tries to watch at least one soccer match on TV each day.
Bender said Morgan’s “tremendous work ethic” and teamwork represents the Soccer for Success well and that the IYSA would like to expand its fundraising efforts in coming years.
“Our fundraisers’ success always depends on the personality of the visiting player, and Morgan was very gracious,” Bender said.