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NYCFC’s Night Leagues brings free soccer program to high school students in Flushing

Mar. 5, 2024 By Athena Dawson and Gabriele Holtermann

Under the bright lights of Flushing High School’s gymnasium, a group of bright eyed, local high school students gathered Saturday evening to run soccer drills and play scrimmage matches.

The high schoolers are a part of New York City Football Club’s (NYCFC) newly launched Night Leagues initiative piloted in January. The soccer club’s charity foundation, City in the Community (CITC), has partnered with EmPower Solar, to bring free Saturday evening soccer coaching and career mentorship sessions to local youth ages 15-18. The initiative is for both boys and girls.

The soccer club already began community initiatives across the boroughs, including in-school and after school programming and a partnership with the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Saturday Night Lights initiative. Night Leagues is the first of its kind for NYCFC, with the goal to expand to other schools in the future.

“We’re piloting it here at the oldest high school in New York City. The goal is to be in as many schools as possible. With Night Leagues the hope is to identify key neighborhoods that have a lot of interest in soccer that are in typically more underserved neighborhoods and are interested in bettering their communities and bringing in resources to make it happen,” said Bailee Eaglin, senior manager of community development at NYCFC.

One of the program’s participants, 16-year-old Gabriela Butron, is a local highschooler that grew up in a soccer loving family. “I truly believe in the passion of whatever runs in your blood. This program has inspired me to continue playing. It gave me the opportunity to continue on,” she said.

(L-R) Naomi Barahoma and Gabriela Butron talked about their love for soccer. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Butron heard about the program through one of her high school coaches and was eager to join. “NYCFC just has built a family together every time we come in there’s never any negative energy. It’s a sport, you’re supposed to love and everyone else with it,” she said.

Butron is one of many soccer loving students who chose to participate in the Night Leagues program. Others include 17-year-old Hurbel Coraza.

“I started playing soccer when I was 5 at Flushing Meadows in the park. I grew up on it and I enjoy it [Night Leagues]. It’s fun, the experience is very fun,” Coraza sad.

Before the young athletes started their warmup, they gathered around to hear from their coaches and Council Member Sandra Ung, a Flushing High School alumna who gave a brief speech in recognition of the program’s success.

Council Member Sandra Ung addresses the young soccer players at the NYCFC Saturday Night Leagues event at Flushing High School. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I want all of you to know that you’re very fortunate to have the New York City Football Club running this program here. Through this experience you’re learning something like participation, teamwork. No matter what happens in the future… just remember to come back to Flushing high school where it all started,” Ung said.

Many of the coaches for the Night Leagues program developed a lifelong relationship with soccer, and a desire to connect with their communities. Fausto Perez Jr., 30, grew up playing soccer in the Bronx and with family back in Mexico. Perez blended his love of soccer and community engagement that led him on a path to becoming a Youth Advocate with NYCFC.

“I was a youth in my community in the South Bronx already organizing soccer on my own with the youth. I was given the platform to make a difference in my community through CITC by leading a street soccer tournament. From there I was able to gain a lot of experience and the right exposure to then be able to have the skillset to come on board full time with NYCFC as a Youth Advocate. As a Youth Advocate, I wear many hats, but my main hat is to ensure that the youth from our programming get the right exposure and opportunities,” he said.

After warm-up drills, players got to put their skills into action. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Some of Perez’s responsibilities include running a six-week soccer program for youth, and young leadership training for adolescents ages 15-22 interested in coaching younger kids.

Martin Loyaga, who has been coaching children how to play soccer for about 10 years ago, hopes the Night Leagues initiative will continue to give New York City’s youngsters a positive experience.

“I feel blessed being here to be given the opportunity to give a lot of young people all throughout the boroughs opportunities to learn values, socialize and make new friends and learn so many different values and skills with soccer,” Loyaga said. “I would never imagine thanks to NYCFC that I would be coaching in the school I graduated from more than 20 years ago.”

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