“We Speak Soccer”

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTONew Haven Youth Soccer (NHYS) players do not show up for games in the matching finery of team uniforms worn by some of their suburban counterparts. But the players, despite the league’s limited resources, bring important skills and values that serve them on Connecticut’s soccer fields and beyond.

That was the consensus of many who were interviewed for We Speak Soccer, a documentary created by film makers Emma Zehner and Sophie Dillon, two 18-year-old league alumni who are now in college. Over two years in the making, the film debuted as the centerpiece of a league’s fundraising event this past Thursday night held at Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville.

The pair said they got their start in film making years ago when they attended a home-based “movie camp” taught by a film student from New York University. Having had such a positive experience playing in the soccer league for nearly six years, the filmmakers said they wanted to use their skills to help promote the league and build awareness of the good things the league accomplishes.

Initially, the film was going be a much shorter piece. After interviews began, the filmmakers realized they needed to expand the scope of the film to tell the full story.

The heavily-edited film is a montage of personal stories and anecdotes told by those that volunteer in the league. It also captures the passion of those who have grown up in the league and credit it with much of their personal development. The film runs around 40 minutes.

New Haven Youth Soccer President, Mary Daly, called the fundraiser “a celebration of the universal language of soccer.” Touching on a recurring theme throughout the film, Daly described the importance of the league’s soccer culture in building community and supporting individuals. “Soccer leads us across barriers,” she said, referring to the league’s outreach across ethnic, socieo-economic and regional boundaries.

Daly also underscored the importance of mentoring as an aspect of the soccer program. “As a psychologist, I ask, did this person have one caring adult? That one caring adult is often what allows children to move ahead in life. This connects people,” she said. Echoing that sentiment in the film was a former NHYS player who said, “Coaches not only cared about player development but about your personal growth. Coaches helped me think about the college process.” 

New Haven Youth Soccer’s mission to “provide a place for boys and girls in kindergarten through eighth grade to learn the game of soccer and to have fun” is made possible through a network of volunteers. The league recently added two part-time paid staffers in Nathan Roberts, recreational program director, and Freddy Guevara, travel program director.

Program Director Roberts, who has taught professional soccer around the world, said that the program “brings people together from all walks of life.” Roberts noted that his involvement in soccer created personal opportunity by lifting him out of a bad situation, a theme he sees reflected in many of the young people who play in the league.

The biggest not-for-profit, urban soccer league in Connecticut, NHYS provides scholarships for up to 25 percent of the children participating. Finance is but one of the many challenges explored in the documentary. Another is the need for more volunteers at all levels of the organization. A common and comical thread throughout the series of short-take interviews in the film involved the personal stories of coaches and how they were drawn into the NHYS volunteer vortex.  One coach said realized he had been drafted when he awoke to find that a sack of soccer balls had been dropped off at his home.

Fundraiser event co-host Anne Lozon of Westville noted that some discussion was underway to address yet another issue raised in the film. A “Plea for Fields” may soon become a formal initiative aimed at solving one of the league’s most persistent problems. “Though the Department of Parks and Recreation have been fabulous, field conditions are less than optimal throughout the city” said Lozon. Crowding remains an issue due to a shortage of playing cites, and field conditions in areas like Edgewood Park, are plagued by chronic flooding.

According to longtime NHYSL Coach Robert Fernandez, who was interviewed for the documentary, cities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have created soccer fields where vacant or unused lots once stood.  “Why not here, in New Haven?” he wondered aloud.

To donate or learn more about NHYS, click here.

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