- Arts & Life
On Monday Dec. 17, three days after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Quinnipiac men’s soccer head coach Eric Da Costa received a phone call from a Quinnipiac alum.
The caller was Chris Canetti, a ’92 graduate from the then Quinnipiac College who now serves as president of the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer team.
“He’s a Guilford native, went to Quinnipiac, played baseball for us at Quinnipiac and we’ve been connected through the soccer world,” Da Costa said. “He gave me a call and was just as devastated and helpless as I was…He really wanted to do something being from here and having two young children of his own so we decided to throw some ideas around and we knew we wanted to do something involving soccer.”
The idea that took root was “Soccer Night in Newtown,” as Canetti got players from the Dynamo involved and Da Costa reached out to his team as well as the Quinnipiac women’s soccer team.
“It started really small,” Da Costa explained. “Houston Dynamo were going to come up and help us organize it and send five of their players. From there, Alexi Lalas got involved and told us he wanted to help and through Alexi, Mia Hamm got involved.”
Lalas and Hamm were not the only soccer celebrities in attendance. Current United States men’s national team player Landon Donovan also came to help out Newtown as well as Kristine Lilly, Christie Rampone, Cobi Jones and Tony Meola. Altogether, there were more than 40 professional soccer players volunteering their time including at least one from every MLS team as well as members from Connecticut Football Club Azul out of the USL PDL.
With names like those at the Newtown Youth Academy, the organizers decided to restrict attendance to residents of Newtown only. Still with the restrictions, ‘Soccer Night in Newtown’ hit its maximum capacity as more than 1,500 people combined attended the two sessions.
“We never envisioned it getting this big but this is what it became and it’s great,” Canettit, one of the main organizers of the event said. “I’m very, very pleased with how it turned out. I think it means a lot to the people of Newtown and that’s exciting to us.”
Although Quinnipiac is currently on their winter break, more than 30 players from the Quinnipiac soccer program came to serve as staff for the event.
The amount of players from Quinnipiac present didn’t surprise Da Costa.
“We’ve got great people involved in my program and the women’s program as well,” Da Costa noted. “Just generally good people. As soon as we sent the email out and told the boys what we’re planning and that we needed some volunteers, everyone was on board.”
What was originally advertised as a free soccer clinic was changed into a sort of soccer carnival. Children were able to check the speed of their shot, shoot on professional soccer goalies and play with the stars on a small field. They were also able to partake in a Q&A with the stars, take pictures, get autographs and paint their faces.
“As you can see, a lot of them (Quinnipiac players) are interacting with all the kids and I think it’s a great experience for them,” Da Costa said. “This is something I think hits really close to them as well. To have an opportunity to give back and work with these kids and bring some more normalcy to their lives is something they really wanted to get involved in.”
Many familiar faces were present on the men’s side including junior midfielder Tim Quigley. Quigley, a native of Ridgefield, Conn., felt the need to help because of how close the tragedy was to him.
“This is massive for me because I’m only a few towns over so all I’m thinking is if this was my town, I want to be a part of it,” Quigley said. “So I’m just glad I can put some smiles on some kids’ faces and introduce them to the game of soccer if they don’t already know it and teach them how fun it is.”
Jill Kelley, a senior goalkeeper on the women’s team and also a Connecticut resident was one of the Bobcats at Soccer Night. Having friends from Newtown as well as a teammate, Kelley says she responded within two minutes of receiving the email about the event. Like the children, Kelley had a smile on her face the entire night.
“I didn’t know that it was going to be so many celebrities at first,” Kelley said. “But just being able to see that these players who are put on a pedestal are able to come down and get on these kids’ levels and just love on them and make sure they are okay and give them some joy is just wonderful to see.”
Each group of volunteers had a different role and Kelley’s was passing out gift bags to the children as they left.
“Everyone that’s passing through is saying ‘Thank you, this was a great event,’” Kelley said. “The parents are thankful, I’ve heard a bunch of ‘God Blesses.’ It’s so nice to see the kids’ joy and they got to meet some of their favorite players or the players that even I grew up watching which was awesome.”