Another topic of interest that more or less parallels the history of the City of Camden is the when, where, and who by the game of soccer was and is played in the city. The game, which was known prior to the mid-1900s as Association Football, was brought to America from Europe after the Civil War, primarily by English immigrants who came to the city. A game of Rugby was played in Camden in 1879. "American Football" soon developed, but there were enough immigrants, especially from the United Kingdom, who preferred soccer. The sport gained some traction, and the 1880s saw a national association and several regional leagues. By 1901 a team from Camden was going over the river to play teams in Philadelphia. Camden teams wee active into the 1910s.
After World War I, soccer continued to be played, but as immigrants aged and assimilated, the old clubs passed into history. Scholastic soccer kept the game alive for many years in Camden and South Jersey. Unfortunately, but sadly not surprisingly, Camden's Board of Education all but dropped the sport for a time.
In the 1980s an influx of immigrants from Asia and especially from Latin America sparked a revival of the game in the City. Woodrow Wilson High School once again fields a soccer team, the Boys and Girls Clubs sponsor a league, and some independent teams have organized and are playing matches in the region.
The Early Years
The Scholastic Years
|Camden Courier-Post - October 21, 2012|
Camden: New turf for a booming sport
Kevin C. Shelly
The most popular sport in the world is building a foothold in Camden.
A nonprofit hopes to reach at least 600 children, and could serve up to 1,000, through an after-school program that combines soccer with educational activities.
The Boys & Girls Club currently is serving 230 youngsters through Soccer for Success, a program created and underwritten by the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Campbell Soup Co. and Horizon are providing local support of $200,000 annually.
Guy Still, leader of the East Camden clubhouse, acknowledges many city children are most involved in football and basketball. “But there’s been wide interest (in soccer) in East Camden because of the Latin-American community,” he said.
That’s the case for Kaylee Estrada, a 9-year-old who stands out on the soccer pitch: Along with budding soccer skills, she sports a large purse and multiple pieces of jewelry as she hustles for the ball, smiling as her long hair whips around.
Jermare Clark, who runs drills and scrimmages for the club, tried getting her to take off the purse. He soon gave up when he realized that just wasn’t going to happen.
“That’s Kaylee,” he says with a shrug.
More than 250 million people play soccer around the globe, but the sport has a low profile in Camden.
The school district largely ignores soccer, except for a boys’ team at Woodrow Wilson High School in East Camden. That team draws from a predominately Hispanic student population.
The privately run Camden Youth Soccer League operates at Pyne Poynt Park in largely Hispanic North Camden.
The city — which has an obesity and diabetes problem and is one of the country’s most violent — eliminated its recreation programs a few years ago and doesn’t sponsor a soccer program.
Soccer for Success, which serves children from 6 to 12 years old, offers three 90-minute sessions each week. Participants receive soccer gear, including a jersey, shinguards and a ball as part of the free program.
The program, which came to the city in September, takes place at four sites across the city.
Kaylee started playing when she was 6, shooting goals with her dad and two brothers. Her uncle is the goalkeeper on a team in her parents’ homeland of Guatemala. And just a few days ago, she and her family watched on TV as the Guatemalan national team played — and beat — the American national team.
The girl, who has lived in Camden for two years, wants to keep playing as she grows older.
Asked about her style on the field, Kaylee says, “I just do it. I have a lot of jewelry.”
And then she is off, long hair flowing, purse swaying, fighting for the ball. A beautiful young girl playing a beautiful game.
Anthony Medina, 10, is less about playing soccer than being outside.
“If it wasn’t for this, I’d be inside playing pingpong or talking,” said the boy, whose tone makes it clear that soccer is a definite winner over the prospect of another game of table tennis.
Anthony acknowledges he’d like to play football as he gets older. But for now, he’s OK with soccer — and the program’s messages about health and nutrition.
The program has been a blessing for 8-year-old Tyler Soto and his family.
Tyler, who grew up in a family where no one had an interest in sports, has an attention deficit disorder, ADHD, according to his mother Evette.
On the nights after he plays soccer, Tyler is calmer and eats better — and then goes to sleep, said his mother.
The rest of the week he comes in “still with a burst of energy,” getting into trouble by play-fighting with his siblings and staying up late, according to his mother.
Tyler, who likes blocking shots most of all, agrees that soccer wears him out in a good way.
When he plays, “I don’t want to do anything when I get home, just rest,” he said.
And he’d like to keep playing as he gets older.
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