Urban Initiatives Night at UIC

The days leading up to October 1st seemed to double in length for the kids on Little Village Academy’s Work to Play team. They couldn’t wait for the night they would get to visit a university campus just minutes away from their neighborhood. University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is a quick commute from the Little Village community and is a school that opens a world of opportunity to kids that study hard and are committed to becoming elite student athletes.

When the Little Village team heard they were going to see the UIC men’s soccer team play a game, their excitement could not be contained. Every player on the team made sure to arrive to school and practices on time, get their homework done and, more importantly, be the best student athletes at Little Village Academy so they wouldn’t miss out on seeing their very first collegiate soccer match.

The day finally came, and soccer players and their families all filled the yellow school bus and made their way to the UIC Flames soccer field. With eyes lit up, the team walked over to the bleachers and caught their first glimpse of the soccer field. It was obvious they were all itching to get on the field and play some soccer. OSPD Diana Armenta and assistant coaches Sofia Salinas and Carolina Cruz led the team over to the party area where a pizza party awaited them and their families.

But before the team ate, they worked up an appetite as they showed their parents and UIC staff all of the new soccer skills they have been practicing through the first three weeks of the fall Work to Play season. Dribbling and partner passing led to team bonding over pizza and water. After the team finished eating, Sean Phillips, UIC’s Head Coach, took time to visit the Little Village team before his team matched up against their visitors.

Coach Phillips’s message was loud and clear. “If you love playing soccer and enjoy the sights of the UIC campus, commit to working hard in the classroom. You too can be UIC student athletes if you put school first.” The message immediately resonated with the Little Village team and drove home the discussions the players and coaches have about academics during practices.

Coach Phillips also asked the team to keep an eye out for #9, Jesus Torres, a first generation student athlete who is also from the Little Village community and who will be graduating from UIC this spring. “He is an example of hard work paying off,” said Coach Phillips. Jesus grew up in Little Village, the same neighborhood where the team plays everyday. It was a great treat to hear such inspirational words from Coach.

As game time approached, UIC’s players were introduced, the crowd stood for the National Anthem and the kids from Little Village started chanting, “U-I-C! U-I-C! U-I-C!” When UIC junior Joel Salmeron netted an early shot past Valparaiso’s goalie, the Little Village cheering section erupted out of their seats and ran to the bottom of the stands to greet the players as they celebrated near the sideline.

As the halftime whistle blew, the Little Village team and coaches received a special treat. They stepped foot on an NCAA soccer field for a team photo with Head Coach Sean Phillips, Athletic Director Jim Schmidt, Associate Athletic Director for Development Andrew Haring and Community Assist Coordinator Nestor Rico. It was the perfect way to end a perfect night.

As kids made their way back on the bus, 4th grader Javier told his coaches, “I can’t wait to come to this school.” Urban Initiatives would like to congratulate UIC’s team on their win and thank the entire UIC staff, coaches and players for hosting the Little Village team as they experienced their first ever college soccer game!

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