Starts With Soccer, Ends With Service

The men's soccer team is active with the Chicago Public School-based co-ed program
The men's soccer team is active with the Chicago Public School-based co-ed program

March 29, 2013

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More Information About Urban Initiatives

By Robbin Cooley, UIC Athletic Communications

CHICAGO - When UIC head men's soccer coach Sean Phillipsand his coaching staff sets out on the recruiting trail it is about winning, and as an athlete or a coach, winning is about reaching one goal. It is about extending a season until the very end and prevailing, being on top, being the best of the best.

The difference is when Phillips and his staff recruit, they aren't just recruiting athletes; they are recruiting student-athletes.

A student-athlete is going to work for all of the aforementioned things; extending a season until the very end, being on top, being the best of the best, etc., while also taking the time to succeed in the classroom and the community.

With a roster full of student-athletes it is no surprise that the men's soccer team is active with the Chicago Public School-based co-ed program "Urban Initiatives" that focuses on learning and growth through the game of soccer.

Founded in 2003, Urban Initiatives began with just one school and 12 kids in the Chicago Public School system and now just 10 years later, the program is partnered with 24 schools and over 700 students. Its largest issue is keeping up with how fast the program is growing.

The increase in numbers can be attributed to several positive factors within the organization: the safe environment where these kids feel welcomed and are able to grow in to leaders and young adults, a love for the game of soccer, and the help of outside resources, such as the UIC men's soccer team to name a few.

"UIC Soccer is always excited to partner with Urban Initiatives on their projects," Phillips said. "Our growing partnership over the past few years provides a great opportunity for our players to give back to the game of soccer and their UIC community. Students from Urban Initiatives have had UIC Soccer players as coaches at their games and UIC Soccer Camp, as well as the opportunity to attend UIC Soccer games. We look forward to not only maintaining, but growing this great relationship."

The relationship between the men's soccer program and Urban Initiatives began a few years back, and continues to strengthen each year.

"I have been with Urban Initiatives for three years, and during that time, Coach Phillips and UIC have been such huge supporters for us," Urban Initiatives Program Manager Tom LaClair said. "There are always UIC men's soccer players who volunteer for us during game-days; we used Flames Field a couple of years ago for a soccer tournament, and Coach Phillips and his wife come out and support our Soccer Gala."

Earlier this week (March 26, 2013) Coach Phillips and UIC assisted the Urban Initiatives program with its largest retreat yet at just over 40 participants from 24 schools, where the youth who are members (team captains) of Urban Initiative's "Take the Lead" Program spent time on UIC's campus playing soccer and beginning their service-learning project.

"We gave them four options to focus on for the service-learning project that they will be leading in their community," Urban Initiatives Program Associate Brendan McAlpine said. "The options were an anti-hunger campaign, a recycling initiative, park clean-up and a book drive."

Each "team captain" was asked to visualize what their own community would benefit from within the four categories of service, and despite the young age of these participants, the response was insightful.

LaClair stated, "when we asked why one team had selected a book drive, the fifth-grader from the Englewood neighborhood said, `In my neighborhood a lot of kids are out in the street causing trouble when they should be at home reading books and learning more about the world. If we do a book drive, we will be able to give more opportunities to do that.'

With a motivation to increase the education level of Chicago youth through a book drive, it would be one building block - an essential one - to becoming a student-athlete, and with the turnout to Tuesday's event, maybe even it could even be at UIC.

"The beautiful thing about UIC is how centrally located it is for us," LaClair said. Beyond that, knowing that it was going to be on UIC's campus, and that they could meet Coach Phillips was also motivating for them to participate on a day during their spring break. I think they were all trying to get his attention with their soccer skills."

Maybe if they continue to hone their soccer skills and build upon the principles that Urban Initiatives have instilled, it will be them that Coach Phillips and his staff are recruiting at to fill the role of "student-athlete."