Every Saturday morning, a small clubhouse space at Bethel of Truth Pentecostal Church at Third and Dauphin streets comes alive with the busy chatter of coaches, volunteers and new parents who come in to register their children for the Kensington Soccer Club.
Kensington Soccer Club was founded in 2010 by area high school teacher Jim Hardy to provide accessible soccer programs during the summer and school year for children ages 3 to 19. It aims to unify the community in Kensington through quality soccer and youth development programs, regardless of ability to pay.
KSC’s teams practice at 12 different neighborhood parks, recreation centers and fields on weeknights to prepare for game days on Saturdays.The teams in the 3 to 11 years old groups come together in the morning to play on Casiano Field next to the church, before middle and high schoolers take the field in the afternoon.
These meetings double as a space to strengthen the tight-knit community, fostering connections among players and parents. Belinda Pratts, 36, is parent new to the club and enjoying the experience so far. Her six-year-old son, Dominic, and her best friend’s daughter are on different teams.
“We wanted to put our kids in soccer and everywhere would be a far drive,” Pratts said. “Then somehow [my friend] just found this within these couple weeks, and now they’re playing. And it’s convenient [because] it is close by us. It gets the kids going and they get to socialize and learn a sport. I get to spend time with my son and watch him [play].”
For low-income families in the area, KSC is more than a typical recreational soccer league. Most of the club’s equipment and protective gear are donated and free for players. The organization’s leadership works hard to ensure any parent can enroll their child to play soccer without financial barriers.
Upon registration, the club asks for a contribution of whatever parents can afford and provides all players with a team shirt, shin guards and socks. It also offers used soccer cleats with a refundable deposit of $5 for the season.
“For those who can’t afford soccer cleats and shin guards, it’s nice,” Pratts said. “It’s for everybody in the community.”
In addition, KSC offers free fruit and snacks for the children after the game to promote nutrition and healthy eating. Another program it offers, Soccer Athletes Value Education (SAVE), includes check-ins with the players about their academics, a free book exchange for families to bring in and take home gently used books and group reading sessions to encourage children to read and do well in school.
“Reading aloud to children is one of the ways that we really foster a love of books,” said Pat Hardy, the mother of founder Jim Hardy, who helps coordinate the club and its programs with her husband, Dan.
The families are not the only ones who benefit from everything Kensington Soccer Club offers. Many of the coaches and volunteers are young adults who started out as players themselves and returned to give back to KSC. The impact of an organization in an underserved area that pushes kids to succeed in school and in life is not lost on them.
“It takes people out of the streets,” said Carlos Acosta, 23, a coach who has been with the Kensington Soccer Club since it was founded. “Kids these days want to be in the streets playing around, which is not safe all the time. Just having them in a safe area is better than having them around the neighborhood, and they get some physical activity.”
The coaches often develop close relationships with players and become mentors to them in one way or another. According to Acosta, the energy and team effort people bring to the field makes Kensington Soccer Club an enjoyable experience for all.
“The atmosphere here is just out of this world,” Acosta said. “It’s amazing seeing the kids smile and teaching them something that I enjoy.”
– Text, images and video by Morgan O’Donnell.