Soccer teams give back at Danone camp

Players run free drills and scrimmages for hundreds of youngsters

On Saturday the Golden Gaels men’s and women’s soccer teams took time out to invest in the future of their sport.

Both Gaels squads offered their expertise to kids from the Kingston area in an afternoon soccer camp and skills clinic.

The Gaels teamed up with Danone—a worldwide yogurt and dairy company—at LaSalle Secondary School to host a day of soccer instruction for girls and boys aged nine to 11 years old.

Mike Jemczyk, co-captain of the men’s team, said the event provided a great day of soccer instruction for the local kids.

“It’s supposed to be fun, educational, and inclusive,” he said. “It’s a way for us to reach out to the community.”

Throughout the day the Gaels supervised drills and organized scrimmages with the young athletes. The camp was flooded with participants from the local area, but the successful turnout didn’t surprise Andrea Pigazzo, co-captain of the women’s team.

“So many kids are involved,” she said. “Soccer is a growing sport in Canada, and it’s something that parents and kids can participate in together.”

Kate Chambers, a goaltender and co-captain of the women’s team, said she was impressed by the spirit of the aspiring soccer stars.

“The kids are really positive, and they all love soccer,” she said. “It’s great to see how excited they get about the little stuff.”

Danone spokesperson Samuel Sanchez Valero said that by November the company will have hosted similar five-hour camps in 14 cities across Canada. Between 200 and 400 girls and boys take part in each of the camps, and around 4,000 kids across the country will have participated by the time the event draws to a close.

Valero said the top 10 players from each of the regional camps will then be selected to attend a provincial camp in March. Of those 140 elite boys and girls, 14 will be chosen to be members of Team Danone Canada, and will be flown to France next September to compete against 32 other countries for the Danone Nations Cup.

However, making it all the way to France seemed to be the last thing on many of the young soccer players’ minds. Most of the boys and girls were happy just to be on the field playing the sport they love, and learning from the Gaels who had taken the time to spend with them.

Other young players took advantage of the day to participate in some classic mischievous fun.

“The best part was killing the Danone mascot,” said nine-year-old Mark McDonald, after successfully focusing his efforts throughout the day on terrorizing the enthusiastic dinosaur.

Pigazzo said she was particularly impressed by the number of young girls who had come to participate in the event.

“The boys and girls seem to be equally involved,” she said. “There are so many girls at the same level as the boys.”

The Danone Nations Cup is a co-ed event, and players are selected to advance to future camps regardless of their gender.

“Quite a few females will make the [national] team,” said Valero. “Women’s soccer is really strong in Canada.”

Rita Witjes, the mother of Garrett—a 10-year-old participant and three-year soccer veteran—said she was impressed by the quality of the camp and the efforts of the Gaels.

“This is amazing,” she said. “The day has been definitely well organized, and there has been a big turnout.”

Danone sponsors the event in participating cities across the globe, making the camps free for all participants.

All proceeds from ticket sales and advertising at the Danone Nations Cup will go to the European Leukodystrophy Association, which is sponsored by French soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane.

Both the men’s and women’s teams were back in action on Sunday afternoon.

In their home opener at Richardson Stadium, the women’s team battled their divisional rival Ottawa Gee-Gees to a 0-0 draw. The men’s team dispatched with RMC easily, winning 5-0. Chris Gencarelli and Brent Lukowski had two goals each.

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