Soccer was a game that Kirk Holbrook enjoyed while growing up. He remembered playing the game with his family and having the opportunity to play in leagues through his mid teens. It was, what some would say, in his blood, especially since his father was a soccer coach and responsible for starting one of the first inner city leagues through the Hazelwood YMCA in the ’70s.
Now, after nearly 40 years, like his late father, Holbrook is carrying on the tradition and trying to introduce the game once again to the inner city and the students of the Hill District through the “Kickin’ It On the Hill” three-day youth soccer clinic held June 26-28 at the Milliones U-Prep Field for participants of the Hill District Association’s Kassi Leadership Academy and Schenley Heights Community Development Program’s summer camps.
“The clinic was excellent, one of the best parts was that the kids were interested throughout. The kids at the Hill House have already asked if we can do another clinic,” said Holbrook, a coordinator at the Kassi Leadership Academy.
The intensive three-day clinic, which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Football Club (PFC), a local soccer club of 14 teams with more than 225 players; Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a local professional soccer team; the Hill House Association; and the Schenley Heights Community Development Program, offered approximately 90 kids, ages 6-13, an up close look into the skills of the game.
Holbrook said the response was overwhelming and that coaches from the PFC informed him that they saw some “real raw talent.”
The idea for the clinic, Holbrook said, came after students from the Hill House’s afterschool program had been learning about different countries, their cultures and the games they play. Through their studies, the kids began discussing soccer and once he noticed the kid’s interests had been peaked, the kids began playing games and Holbrook put together a five-week mini clinic, which was held in May with 30 kids, all while planning the intensive clinic with Marc Bellora and Shari Rich of the PFC.
“It’s always good to expose kids to foreign stimuli and it broadens their horizons,” Holbrook said of why he wanted to introduce students to the game of soccer. “It’s a global sport played by kids of all nationalities and it helps them see themselves on a global scale. (The game) lends itself to teaching cooperation, teamwork and positive interaction, it builds life skills. “
The clinic was staffed and equipped by volunteers from the PFC and kids who participated received cleats, a t-shirt, a soccer ball, tickets to a Pittsburgh Riverhounds game and Rita’s Italian Ice also donated treats to participants.
Rich, president of the board of the PFC, said, “It was an awesome time for everyone. A great experience with the kids and my players that went and volunteered enjoyed it too. It was a positive experience all the way around.”
But the clinic was just a catalyst to a larger initiative that Holbrook would like to see—an inner city soccer league. Holbrook said he, along with a commitment from the PFC, are in the early stages of developing an inner city soccer league. He said they are currently working on putting together a planning team and acquiring more sponsorship to get more equipment. Also, the PFC has committed to assisting them with coaching services and becoming a nationally recognized league.
Holbrook said he expects the league to begin by the spring of 2013, but plans to hold some activities in the fall.
Rich said the PFC was glad to join the partnership and felt bringing it to the Hill District was important because it is giving kids the opportunity to experience a sport they might not otherwise have a chance to. “Everywhere else there are opportunities for kids to play, whether through school or community leagues, but not in the inner city of Pittsburgh. It’s an organized sport and it does not cost a lot to play. You just need a ball and shoes,” she said
Holbrook said he looks forward to continuing the partnership with the PFC because they are great and this is unique for their organization.
As of now, the league will initially be open to Hill District students, but Holbrook said, “The potential is limitless. I see this as something that can go far.”