With a cool fall breeze rustling the Vernon Park leaves, parents of players on Soccer Sisters United’s under-9 and under-12 teams were bundled up on the sidelines for a doubleheader of Sunday afternoon matches.
The teams, led by head coach Walter Stewart, are enjoying the final days of their fall season before the chilly weather (and the end of daylight savings time) forces them inside the Germantown Life Enrichment Center.
Still facing hurdles
While the team originally faced opposition from the Friends of Vernon Park and Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation, who were concerned about using the space for organized athletics, challenges have somewhat intensified lately. (See Friends of Vernon Park response here.)
“We’ve had a few things stolen and, maybe twice, we had to call the police on people who were harassing us,” Stewart said. “But, compared to where we used to play in Point Breeze for 10 years, this is much more peaceful.”
Their biggest obstacles have been inadequate light and field space, combined with meager funding.
“We have no lights on the field and many of our students walk or ride their bikes to practice,” Stewart said. “Moving to another field with lights would be very burdensome and, perhaps, even dangerous for some of our girls to get to.”
Someone stole their goal
Most recently, a stolen goal was added to the list of challenges.
Valued between $900 and $1,000, it was stolen last week. That loss has been a huge hit to the team.
“That’s a lot for us, as it’s way more than what bring in from the kids each season,” Stewart said. “Our finances are pretty hit or miss. We can be good for a while and then we run out of money again.”
The team also used to have a van to transport the kids to weekend games, but Stewart junked it when the program couldn’t cover the cost of necessary repairs.
“Now, we rent cars to get to games over the weekends as were travelling somewhere almost every weekend, but that can add up,” Stewart said.
Thanks to a large grant from an anonymous donor last December, the team stayed afloat this season.
They hoped to use those funds to buy a new van, but the need for uniforms, and paying for referees and league fees, were prioritized.
“I’ve been pretty conservative about spending money, but now that we’ve lost the goal, I will need to figure out what to do about that,” Stewart said.
Players love it
SSU is a program focused on giving opportunities to children from neighborhoods where they’re hard to come by.
With a former player — Penn Charter’s Jlon Flippens — recently committing to University of Maryland with a full soccer scholarship, the program has proven effective when it comes to training, and educating, youths.
For SSU players, the team dynamic does boosts morale.
“We are like family,” said Diane Marrow, who plays on the U-12 team. “We can get mad at each other, but we also joke around a lot and make soccer fun.”
“Yeah,” teammate Ciara Dixon chimed in. “The team at my school is co-ed and I don’t like to play with the boys. I like playing with this team!”
While the U-12 players loss of 2-1 to Methacton on Sunday, the U-9 squad notched an 8-0 against Interboro Soccer Club.
“We had to hold back to not make it worse, and we were playing fairly shorthanded with injured and absent players,” Stewart said with a chuckle.
SSU players, coaches, parents and fans will return to Vernon Park this Saturday. However, the matches will be considerably different than those played last weekend.
From 4 to 6 p.m., the program’s 16th annual Halloween Soccer Party will be held.
There, the girls will dress up in costumes and play on a “haunted soccer field” featuring “ghoulies” rather than goalies, tombstones and jack-o-lanterns lining the field and, among other holiday decorations, cornstalks for corner flags.