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Monday, July 1, 2013

DC SCORES campers feel like pros during special G.O. Global event

"He's in college, he can't play!"

"He's in college, he can't play!!"

The line was repeated over and over again by DaMarcus Beasley, not a bad soccer player himself, as he watched a DC SCORES summer camp participant on the "Blue Team" dribble his way through traffic toward the goal.

While no youth at the Maryland SoccerPlex Saturday will likely replicate the impressive professional soccer career of Beasley -- who scored three goals Saturday in the first 5 minutes of a celebrity scrimmage -- plenty of youth talent had the former U.S. Men's National Team player and other current and past pros oohing and ahhing.

They had all been summoned to the Maryland SoccerPlex for the G.O. Global Kick-Off Fundraiser, a soccer event to support Oguchi Onyewu's new nonprofit organization that strives to "empower young people through the promotion of health, fitness, and wellness in their daily lives."

In line with the organization's mission, Onyewu invited 30 DC SCORES summer camp participants and 30 soccer players from MSI Soccer to take part in a day of learning from the pros and playing two scrimmages on the field of the National Women's Soccer League's Washington Spirit. 

The youth arrived at 11am, received T-shirts and socks, ate lunch, then got to meet the likes of Beasley, Tony Sanneh, Maurice Edu, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris of the Spirit, and Graham Gano of the Carolina Panthers. 

The kids were broken into two teams -- red and blue -- coached by the big wigs. Sanneh, a former USMNT and L.A. Galaxy star, ran the red team, but quickly unloaded responsibility onto the shoulders of Emily C., who huddled the team around her and led a chant.

"Beat blue and Team Mo! Beat blue and Team Mo!" the kids yelled in unison, referring to Edu (aka "Mo) coaching the blue team.

By the time the teams headed outside, introductions had been made between the DC SCORES and MSI kids and everyone was excited to play together. It's amazing how soccer can be such a quick unifying force.

As soon as the kids hit the field, they were professionals for a day. Seriously. 

First, trainers from Explosive Sports led the red and blue teams through a series of stretches and drills to get warmed up that included high kicks, butt kicks, running backward, sprints, all the warm-ups of the pros. Then players were broken into rotating groups for drills that included: dribbling around cones, side-to-side shuffling, settling long balls, and, for the goalies, moving laterally to save shots. 

It was almost game time.

But not quite yet. The teams were ushered through the gate behind the field and asked to line up. Then, with Guy Lambert from WPGC-95.5 on the microphone, players were individually announced as they walked onto the field. Spectators who had gathered in the bleachers under the hot sun applauded. 

The kids beamed with pride, soaking in the spotlight.

Next, the players walked to midfield, where team pictures were taken by G.O. Global's professional photographer before everyone turned their heads toward the American flag and stood in one line for the national anthem. 

Finally, it was game time. Moments later, Beasley -- helping Sanneh coach the red team -- was complaining about the "college" players. After Jonathan scored a goal on a beautiful pass from his teammate, Lambert announced over the loudspeaker, "Red team goal scored by Jonathan!." 

Every goal was announced over the loudspeaker, and the scoreboard behind the north goal kept track of the score. It was clear that the campers' work at Kelly Miller summer camp the previous week was paying off, as they made sharp passes, controlled the ball well, and impressed the likes of Beasley, Sanneh and others.

It sure didn't seem like anyone had butterflies playing with new teammates and in front of hundreds of spectators. 

When the red team recovered from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, captain Emily said, "Things just got real."

The first youth game ended in a 3-3 tie, with everyone tired from going all out under the bright sun. As the players rested and the second set of teams prepared for their  opportunity, they all got the chance to watch the celebrity game. 

There's no better way to learn from the pros than by watching them up-close, and that's what the youth did. Not only that, but five DC SCORES coaches helping with the event and program alum Rob played in the game.

While Rob didn't stop any of Beasley's laser shots, he'll never forget the experience of playing with national team players on a professional field. The celebrity game ended in a 5-5 tie, with the coaches holding their own alongside the likes of Beasley, Sanneh, Onyewu, Krieger, Harris, Stephanie Ochs, and Gano, who showed off his powerful NFL kicker's leg.

Then the second group of youth got their chance, engaging in the third competitive game of the day that ended in a tie, 3-3. While they played and after, the professionals signed autographs for kids' shoes, shirts, jerseys, you name it. This was accompanied by dozens of photos shoots for the youth with their idols. 

When the final horn sounded, everyone gathered again at midfield and received medals from Onyewu as a thank you for participating in the action-packed day. Chi Onyewu, Oguchi's sister and the Executive Director of G.O. Global, presented DC SCORES with a large plaque for taking part in the first-time event. 

As DC SCORES campers left the field, wearing their cool new soccer jerseys -- some in red, some in blue, all marked by sharpie signatures -- with new bags, water bottles, and other goodies, they thought about how special of a day it'd been.

From meeting the pros, to be treated like one, the G.O. Global Kick-Off Fundraiser was an event they won't forget anytime soon.

Captain Emily summed up the experience best, saying proudly, "I felt like a pro."

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