Some of the biggest names in soccer were at the NYA Sports & Fitness Center (NYA) on Monday, January 7, 2012, to take part in “Soccer Night in Newtown” to honor the Sandy Hook victims and help the community heal after the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school.
Through MLS W.O.R.K.S., 40 MLS players from 11 teams were there to bring a night of fun to the families of Newtown, including children that attended Sandy Hook Elementary school.
Some of the soccer greats that participated were Cobi Jones, Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, Kenny Cooper, Mia Hamm, Christie Rampone, Kristine Lilly, a CT native, and Marcus Tracy. Tracy grew up in Newtown and his mother once taught at Sandy Hook Elementary School. See a complete list of players below.
The excitement could be felt as families and children waited anxiously to enter the facility. The doors opened and children joyfully entered the indoor turf area with eyes opened wide.
The soccer legends signed autographs on soccer balls, shirts, shoes, posters and more. Children posed to take photographs with the players and parents had cameras ready.
The children also tossed soccer balls around in impromptu games with the stars. In one instance Cobi Jones organized the children into a circle and played a very fast game he taught them. He quickly tossed a soccer ball to each child in turn, and they either had to catch it and throw the ball back or hit it with their head to return it, depending on what word Jones shouted out. There were non-stop smiles and laughter all around.
Children also had the opportunity to ask questions of the soccer stars as groups of the athletes sat on the front edge of a small stage. One question asked by a little girl was “How old were you when you started to play soccer?” and as the microphone was passed to LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, he answered, “I was five years old and I was a hyperactive kid.”
Among many other activities were: face painting, faux tattoos, an extra large inflatable bounce house, a “Real Sports XP” (an inflatable interactive soccer game that measures the speed of a kick), a portrait booth, a caricature artist, and a DJ that played lively music. There was also a silent auction for autographed team shirts from the famous soccer players.
The idea of “Soccer Night in Newtown” was initiated by Houston Dynamo president and Quinnipiac University alumni Chris Canetti, a native of nearby Guilford. He called Quinnipiac men’s soccer coach Eric Da Costa and then it became a collaboration of Dynamo players and the Connecticut Football Club (CFC) and Quinnipiac coaches. It quickly picked up momentum as 40 MLS and US National Team stars joined in to participate.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber was also present at the event, after he canceled his plans to attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, so he could attend “Soccer Night in Newtown.”
Peter D’Amico, founder and owner of NYA Sports and Fitness Center on the Fairfield Hills Campus in Newtown, donated the use of his facility, open only to Newtown residents for this event. There were two sessions, 4pm to 5:30pm and 6pm to 7:30pm, which were attended by approximately 1200 people, limited to the maximum capacity for this facility. The event lasted more than four hours when doors opened early because of the huge crowd and people lingered past 7:30pm not wanting it to end.
At the end of the event attendees received a gift bag which included a number of items, one of which was a green T-shirt with the words “Soccer Night in Newtown” on the front and “In Loving Memory of Sandy Hook Elementary” on the back.
If only for five hours, it was a special night and one that will be remembered for the smiles it brought back to the community.
Players participating in Soccer Night in Newtown:
Zach Loyd, Bobby Warshaw
Corey Ashe, Brad Davis, Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark, Tally Hall
Landon Donovan, Sean Franklin, Rafael Garcia
New England Revolution
Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Hunter Freeman, Ryan Guy, Matt Reis, Clyde Simms, Chris Tierney, Bobby Shuttleworth
New York Red Bulls
Kenny Cooper, Heath Pearce, Ryan Meara
Chris Albright, Ray Gaddis
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
David Estrada, Josh Ford
Brad Knighton , Omar Salgado
US Men’s Legends
Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, Mike Burns, Tony Meola
US Women’s Legends
Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Christie Rampone
See 140 photos of “Soccer Night in Newtown” here: picturesbypaula.com