More than 50 kids between ages six and 15 teamed up with members of the New York Cosmos soccer club last week as part of the Our Lady of Grace Soccer Association’s summer camp program. Members of the North American Soccer League team ran through drills and taught lessons in teamwork all week long at the Pals Oval in Ozone Park, looking to maintain the league’s tradition of sportsmanship.
Cosmos head coach and international soccer star Giovanni Savarese helped coordinate the camp with help from his players so the Howard Beach kids could get the most out of their summer, the Our Lady of Grace League Director Jerry Antonino said. The league has hosted soccer seasons throughout the entire year before the weeklong camp, including a fall season from September to November, an indoor winter season through February and a spring season through June.
Jon Rosen, a coordinator with Our Lady of Grace, traveled from one skills show to the next all over the Pals Oval field while chanting his support and guidance to players throughout the camp.
“We are one of the only programs that does this all year round,” Rosen said. “This program is special. We’ve got former players who serve as coaches now.”
Michael Branker, a coach with the Cosmos, oversaw part of the camp as players shared skills from beginner to advanced all over the field. Surrounded by soccer and the sounds of kids laughing and cheering, Branker said he noticed there was something special about the Howard Beach players because of the kinds of values the league pushes with each passing season.
“Through the Cosmos, these kids get a ton of technical advice because they perform at such a high level,” Branker said. “This is a special group. We’re dealing with a lot of talent and we expect a lot out of them.”
One of the standout traits Branker said impressed him the most was the kids’ willingness to reach out and support each other at such a young age. Unlike the stereotype in school gym classes, Branker said this group of kids values improvement and growth over simply being the best player on a given team.
“They are all about respect amongst their peers,” Branker said. “They know it’s all about respect and working together to achieve their goal.”
It was a mindset that Rosen said coaches instill in players from the very beginning of their soccer careers. He said the league’s high standards have ultimately helped cultivate a culture that keeps the players around for years.
“It’s a great bunch of kids and it shows in their discipline,” Rosen said. “We try to teach these kids that it’s a family. You look out for each other.”
The Our Lady of Grace soccer club collected several championships over the years since its 1993 origin, including Brooklyn Diocesan Championships in various degrees of skill levels each year since 2006.