When Jacqueline and Andrew Urbine moved away from East Falls this spring, they left behind a flourishing youth soccer program in Northwest Philadelphia that was 10 years in the making.
“When we started, there were no lines on the field, no uniforms,” said Andrew, sitting with Jacqueline in the dining room of their new Society Hill home. There were about 40 kids that participated in the soccer program when the Urbines were looking to join.
The program suffered from inconsistent scheduling and resources. “We were told either you take over the league or there is no league,” said Andrew.
Now, on Saturday mornings from Labor Day to the first week of November, you can find 140 kids between the ages of three and eight scrimmaging at the McDevitt Recreation Center’s fields on Scotts Lane.
The Urbines wanted their growing family to have the benefits of playing a community team sport, and Jacqueline, who played soccer throughout high school, won out.
“I think it’s good for kids to start learning with their feet, to learn social skills on a team. I wanted our kids to have that experience,” said Jacqueline, who was a medical student and resident while also coaching the soccer league.
“She’d come back from a 36-hour shift and go right to the field,” said Andrew.
For Jacqueline, the choice was obvious. “I always thought it mattered. I wanted to show the kids I cared.”
Word of mouth
The Urbines recruited new players and volunteer coaches by piggybacking on the EFSA’s successful baseball program and by placing ads in local newspapers.
“Once we got in with the Nicetown folks they started bringing cousins,” said Jacqueline. “Plus we have four kids so we know a lot of kids,” added Andrew, whose family itself acted as a network.
“It’s a very mixed group of kids because we draw from North Philly and Germantown, kids who maybe don’t know the kids here [in East Falls],” said coach and co-organizer Jen Arnoldi. “Jacquie and Andy were always good at making it work so that all the groups of kids can play together.”
Growing enrollment led to more resources and parental involvement. “We used the money from the registration fee and put it back into the program to make it better. With more kids you get more registration fees,” said Andrew.
Uniforms and lines on the field followed. After a few years, Ed Henninger from McDevitt Recreation Center contributed newer, bigger goals for the league.
By the end of their last year, the Urbines recruited 25 regular coaches and the soccer program had eight teams across three age groups: three- to four-year-olds, four- to five-year-olds, and six- to eight-year-olds. Kids age eight and above often moved on to join traveling soccer teams in Lower Merion or Fairmount.
Handing off the league
When they moved away from East Falls in April, the Urbines passed the torch to Arnoldi.
As for the Urbine kids, their twin daughters Madeline and Alexandra, 12, now play for Palumbo Soccer Club, a traveling league based out of Center City.
“We didn’t expect it to get this far. We just wanted to have a place for our kids to play soccer,” said Jacqueline. “It has been great to watch kids go on to play high school soccer. One is a now starting goalie.”
Andrew remains on the EFSA board as treasurer and notes the group is in the process of a $250,000 playground update. The playground facilities at McDevitt were last updated in 1985.