By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Following a favorite summer tradition, the CYO of Mercer County’s Broad Street Center again hosted its own World Cup soccer program, which blends an athletic competition with a challenge to learn about different countries.
This year’s competition, which culminated Aug. 16, not only pitted Team Australia against Team Saudi Arabia, but also brother against brother and sister against sister.
Photo Gallery: CYO Soccer 'World Cup'
“It’s pretty intense,” said John Soss, CYO program director. The soccer tournaments began years ago when he was a camp counselor. “It was my first year and the World Cup was being played. I said, ’Let’s do it.’ I had no idea how big it would grow, but the kids just enjoy it so much.”
The teams are modeled after the FIFA World Cup games, which were held this year in Russia in June and July. Throughout the summer weeks, campers are separated into different teams. The campers research their countries, learning about things such as the capital, population, governmental structure, currency, imports and exports, and language.
“It’s an exciting event,” said Rob Prihoda, senior counselor and goalie. Before each game, campers are quizzed about their country, and if their answers are correct, they begin the game with a point. “This is important. You don’t want to start the game behind so the kids study and learn about their country.”
The campers also learn about teamwork. “Your team becomes your family. It’s about creating connections,” said Jason DeLeon, counselor and opposing goalie.
“This year was extra exciting since it coincided with the World Cup games being played,” said Tom Mladenetz, executive director of the CYO of Mercer County. “The staff has really taken it to another level with the educational piece. It’s fun and it’s definitely one of the most popular events here for the campers.”
Brothers Anthony and Mathais Dolite, ages 11 and 13 respectively, found themselves on opposing teams.
“I am excited about the game,” Anthony said as he prepared to take to the field as a member of team Saudi Arabia.
When asked what he learned throughout the World Cup games, he shared, “I learned it’s not all about me. It’s about teamwork.”
Sisters Valerie and Sophia Navarro, ages 12 and 8, also found themselves opponents in the CYO World Cup final.
“I learned how to be a better player and teammate,” Valerie said.
Sophia was optimistic about a win. “I hope we win! I think we’re going to win,” she said before taking her position on defense.
After four, seven-minute quarters, officiated by Soss, Team Saudi Arabia was the medal winner, with a score of 1-0.
Anthony Dolite, who scored the winning goal, reflected on the game. “I feel good, I am really happy. I don’t want to seem too happy, because my brother’s team lost, but they played a good game.”
“I am proud of them. I am speechless; I can’t believe it,” DeLeon said after protecting his team’s goals and not allowing Team Australia to score.
“I feel really good,” Ashley Salguero, 12, spoke of her team’s victory. “I liked trying my best. It’s fun. It really doesn’t matter who wins. It’s about the fun.”