Since winter, when a soccer program with roots in Point Breeze first donned its shin pads in Germantown, nearly 40 girls between the ages of 5 and 11 have taken to the grass at Vernon Park to learn the game.
Soccer Sisters United (SSU), a youth girls’ travel team located in Germantown, is a non-profit organization run by head coach Walter Stewart, a DePaul Catholic school teacher who started the athletic-and-mentoring program elsewhere in 1998.
Originally part of the Philadelphia Youth Organization’s Anderson Monarchs program, Stewart explained that Yomi Awodesu with the Germantown Life Enrichment Center “convinced us to use his building as our training facility.”
A marked increase in participation from Germantown area youth led the SSU to run its spring program at Vernon Park.
The SSU mission
SSU has not strayed from its focus of providing both soccer training and academic support for players who hail from areas not commonly associated with the sport.
Stewart often recruits DePaul students into the program. Assistant Coach Paul DiGilio, a West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School teacher, has done so as well during his two years with SSU.
With a background in crossfit training, DiGilio focuses heavily on the sport’s fitness component. He said he has seen the young girls become better players.
“These girls already have a lot of natural talent, coordination-wise and have good rhythm,” he said. “The sport of soccer brings that out.”
Self-confidence and pride results from working hard in practice; even heading a ball the correct way gives the girls a feeling of success, he said.
“I know they appreciate it because they keep coming out,” said DiGilio, noting that some players come from as far as Upper Darby three times a week.
Players, parents react
Soleil, 10, has been playing soccer since she was five. She joined up with SSU just last year.
“I like it because I get to learn something new every day,” she said, “and it makes you stronger.”
Several mothers mentioned a community has formed through this organization. They said they’ve noticed how excited their girls are to attend every practice and game.
Germantown resident Baptista Marrow has three daughters on the team.
“All the girls are becoming sisters,” said Marrow. “They are all very friendly and close.”
Hoping for continued success
Word-of-mouth interest has left coaches and organizers hoping they can replicate their 15 years of succees in Northwest Philadelphia after summer.
Among those successes: A 2011 trip to the White House for a “Let’s Move” clinic with first lady Michelle Obama, and a documentary film (made by a former Germantown resident) released on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.
The players also aspire to be the SSU’s next Jlon Flippens who, having grown up across the street from their South Philadelphia location, now plays for William Penn Charter and FC Delco and has been called up to the Under 15 women’s national team at least four times.
Stewart said Flippens is currently ranked number one in Pennsylvania’s Class of 2016 and number seven nationally by Top Drawer Soccer, a college recruiting service.
Gabrielle S. Clark, Sarah E. Maceachern and Ryan A. Shellenberger are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.