Soccer club helps players reach their potential
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Region – For many area kids, playing recreational sports such as soccer, baseball or hockey is an integral part of growing up. Although most towns still subsidize their school programs, more advanced players are usually on their own and for many, it is a luxury they cannot afford.
Jason Braga, who grew up in Hudson, thinks all kids should have the chance to participate, no matter what their financial circumstances.
A longtime soccer player and coach, Braga knows how important sports are to kids. Growing up he played and later coached at Hudson High School before playing for Worcester State University.
Now, as a coach and a member of the Board of Directors of the New England Futbol Club (NEFC), Braga said he is “trying to see if we can bring in funds from different avenues for those kids who normally wouldn's have the resources.”
NEFC is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is a leader among soccer organizations in New England and the Northeast.? Over the past five years it has established a solid reputation for the highest quality programs emphasizing player and youth development. NEFC has over 150 programs throughout the state including locations in Metro North, central Massachusetts, South Shore and South Coast regions. Many of the central Mass. games and practices are held locally at Forekicks in Marlborough.
Geared for players ages 7-18, NEFC focuses on technical skill training, speed, agility and quickness training as well as position specific training. There is also a comprehensive goalkeeping program.
The program's senior staff, as well as its coaches, all have years of experience both playing and coaching. In addition, players have the opportunity at times to work with top college teams and elite players such as Kristine Lilly, a two- time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team.
When it comes to varied competition, teams have the opportunity to play in a variety of leagues and tournaments up and down the East Coast. Many of the program's elite and premier teams have won state, regional and national championships. This year the NEFC's Girls Under-14 team made history when they won the National Championship in both US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer in the same year. It is also only the third team from Massachusetts to win a US Youth Soccer National Championship.
One of the main benefits of tournament participation is exposure to college recruiters. NEFC players have played at all levels of the college game including in the Atlantic Coast Conference, The Big East, Ivy League, Patriot League, New England Small College Athletic Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One Final Four.
With this type of commitment, there is of course, a cost-component, officials acknowledge, one that many families might find difficult to fund.
To help those players, NEFC has established a needs-based scholarship program. Scholarships will cover the full cost of all fees, equipment and team-related travel for one year.
The scholarships are “not recruitment or retention incentives,” its website states, “but are based on demonstrated financial need – either ongoing financial limitations or temporary circumstances that have created hardship.”
According to Braga, the NEFC is focusing its efforts on underserved areas and finds players in need through referrals.
“Some of these kids don's even have a ride to practices,” he added, “never mind paying the league fees, purchasing equipment and funding travel for out-of-state tournaments. It's a big commitment of time and money. We practice four days a week and attend games on weekends.”
Worcester native Bernard Yeboah was a beneficiary of financial assistance from the NEFC. Yeboah was introduced to the program at 15, when his own club, FC Puma, merged with another club to become part of the NEFC.
“I could not afford the cost of it, but the club helped me fully fund my expenses which I was very grateful of,” he said. “When I was younger I didn’t have rides to practices or games. Coach Braga was one of coaches to drive me…. He was very helpful in my development as he also coached me.”
While at Worcester South High School, Yeboah was seen playing by a Worcester Academy scout and received a full scholarship to attend there in his sophomore year. Now he has completed his first year playing for the University of Vermont.
“Through NEFC, I was exposed to many colleges and I was able to attend the University of Vermont with the exposure,” Yeboah said.
In addition to skill development, a big part of NEFC's mission is to expose young players to opportunities. “We get players seen by high school and college scouts that wouldn's normally have the chance,” Braga added.
For more information, visit www.nefc.us.
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