As the icy wind swept over the wet, squelchy grass, dozens of boys ran through Edgewood Park, chasing their respective soccer balls. With mud-spattered uniforms and wind-tussled hair, the boys of the New Haven Youth Soccer’s Under-10 group disregarded the icy April evening and concentrated on their first practice of the Spring 2009 season on Wednesday night.
“OK, now when you go out of bounds, do jumping jacks!” called coach Amy Desmarais, 22.
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Clinics like this are held multiple times a week by NHYS, an organization that teaches boys and girls under 16 how to play recreational soccer. Founded in the ’80s, the program has over 600 boys and girls enrolled throughout the city. And for many Yale faculty and staff who reside in New Haven — whether their role in the league involves cheering from the sidelines or actively coaching and volunteering — splitting time between University offices and Elm City fields provides a worthwhile opportunity to merge work and home life.
Yale English professor Elliott Visconsi has coached for the NHYS since he first came to Yale in 2001. Wrapped up for the 40-degree weather with a beanie and a thick vest, this season he is cheering from the sidelines. On his feet throughout the entire practice, Visconsi clapped as his son Henry, 8, dove forward to head the ball.
“It’s a blast and a great pleasure to watch,” said Visconsi, who teaches Directed Studies and “First Amendment and the Literature of Rights.” While he is busy during the day with students and meetings, he said he makes time to take his son to practice and occasionally offer tips. “It’s just about fun, respect and joy for the game,” he added.
As Yale continues to expand and move into the New Haven community, more professors such as Visconsi are getting involved with local organizations such as NHYS. Not only do professors’ children interact with other local kids, the professors themselves are able to socialize with families all around town through volunteering.
Giuseppe Moscarini, a Yale economics professor, said his work as a coordinator for the Under-10 team helped him meet families that he may not have met otherwise.
“While I’m not saying that all faculty members should start volunteering, I think it’s natural for those living in the town to get involved in ways that interest them,” said Moscarini, who himself is a member of an all-men’s soccer league.
Since his sons, 7 and 9, started playing in the NHYS in 2005, Moscarini found that parents needed to help out in order for the program, composed mostly of volunteers, to run smoothly. Now he helps to contact parents and spread information about the different times and locations for the practices and games.
Visconsi agreed that it is important to be “a stakeholder in the community in which you live.” He said that while many faculty members are involved with NHYS, there are also many others volunteering at soup kitchens and other community organizations. It is important to take part in the life of the city and not just parachute in to teach classes and leave, he said.
While the NHYS has travel teams for children who are more serious about competitive soccer, the clinics are pure scrimmages, with Saturday-morning matches. The Under-10 boys’ group alone has 80 boys enrolled this season, and even wet and chilly evenings like Wednesday do not prevent many of the boys from donning their favorite jerseys — FC Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo, to name a few — and running across the field with their friends.
After practice, 6-year-olds Roger Baldwin and Bjarki Albertson stayed back to kick around a ball between orange cones. They are not only teammates, they said, but also best friends. Both first-graders have been playing soccer for years, and although Roger slipped on the mud and limped for a few minutes, he quickly straightened up and ran along with Bjarki.
Roger’s father Teo Baldwin, 43, is a New Haven fireman. Much like Visconsi and Moscarini, he said attending practices is a reprieve from a hard day of work and allows him to befriend local parents.
Desmarais and Matt Neale, 25, the other coach for the Under-10 group, agreed that the lessons learned at the soccer clinics — sportsmanship and teamwork — are important for the children. Adults, whether Yale-affiliated or not, get something better, the coaches agreed: “The kids.”