The final goal has been snuck past the goaltender this Fall for South End Soccer, and the upstart organization is celebrating 11 strong years and growing numbers.
Caroline Foscato, president of South End Soccer, said it has become hard to believe how popular the league has become since they started it in the Fall of 2008 with about 30 or 40 kids.
“It’s the case of if you build it, they will come,” she said. “We are 11 years old and serve about 1,200 kids in and around the neighborhood in our leagues. One thing that’s different about us is it’s a free program because at our core we believe in equity in youth sports, which isn’t the norm in the youth sports world.”
Foscato said soccer is unique in that it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of equipment, but being a free league, they do have to rely greatly on fundraising and donations. They also boast more than 70 volunteer coaches, and many of them are community members who don’t have a child participating – but simply want to volunteer their time productively. That falls in line with the mission of equity, she said.
“The real message for us and why we think we’re different in a really great way is the emphasis on equity and relationship building,” she said. “We feel at the heart that every child should be able to play a sport. We don’t think there are enough things in the community bringing people together. We see kids who are neighbors, but may go to private school or Metco Program schools and they live three blocks from each other and don’t know each other. When they get on a South End Soccer team together, suddenly things change because they’re on a team together and get to know each other.”
The League primarily services South End children, but also brings in a lot of kids from Roxbury, Chinatown and the Fenway – as there is no other soccer league in the area for those kids. While Fall is their largest season, they do have spring and summer seasons as well. They begin in-house leagues at age 5 and support traveling teams all the way into the teen-age years. They have about 25-30 teams and can often see 400 kids on a field, with more than 70 volunteer coaches.
Over the last year, the League has been working with Northeastern University to use the new Carter Park artificial surface field. That brand new field was built to service Northeastern club teams and South End Soccer. Foscato said that partnership has been huge for the League, as it allows them to use a high-end surface and have fewer weather cancellations.
Beyond that, Foscato stressed that rather than the competition, the League feels that the relationships are what make people come in large numbers to play.
“We believe we have a national model,” said Foscato. “All you need really is a ball and it’s a gender-neutral sport. We think the community building and equity piece is very special.”