CHICAGO, Illinois – The smiles on the faces of the kids told the story in a most poignant way.
There was no need for words as Caribbean winners of the Scotiabank Concacaf NextPlay Cup soaked up the once-in-a-lifetime experience with wild abandon in one of the USA’s most iconic urban areas, Chicago.
Through the initiative sponsored by Scotiabank, forty primary school children from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas and Barbados earned the right to the glorious opportunity to immerse themselves into the Gold Cup experience after winning their respective Scotiabank Concacaf NextPlay Cup competition.
In their visit to Chicago, every single activity was an eye-popper for the kids and their handlers alike, starting with the plane ride over, to their museum visit, the interactive NextPlay festival at the Chicago Fire Pitch, the tour of Soldier Field, which culminated with them witnessing the Concacaf Gold Cup final between hosts USA and Mexico.
Holy Family Primary and Infant School of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago’s Sipiria Boys R.S., Barbados’ All Saints Primary and The Bahamas’ Cleveland Eneas Eagles were the fortunate schools.
At the festival, which forms part of the broader Concacaf NextPlay Social Program, the Caribbean children had a chance to mingle with local kids from the Chicago area in a cross-cultural day of football-related activities witnessed by top Concacaf functionaries, sponsors’ representatives and city officials. The activity was a joint effort with the Chicago Sports Commission, the Chicago Fire, and the Chicago Parks District.
In a display of friendship and camaraderie, the 85 children engaged each other in joint fun activities and football routines under the watchful eyes of volunteer coaches and NextPlay coordinators.
Christopher Wright, Principal of Holy Family Primary and Infant School in Jamaica, underlined the potential life-changing impact of the Chicago experience, for not only the starry-eyed kids, but the adults who accompanied them.
“The kids are very happy and overjoyed by the experience they have been having through the greatness of the gift they have at the game… we as a school community are very grateful to be here and we thank Scotiabank and Concacaf of giving us this amazing opportunity.
“We can now hope that this experience will open their eyes and that it can show them (the kids) that there is another way, and hopefully, they can see that sports, and football in particular, can open the door to bigger and greater things,” Wright told concacaf.com.
He said the social interaction with children from other countries was an important element of the tour because it would have exposed many of his students to the important lesson of learning to get along with others.
“They being here and mingling with people from different countries will be crucial as it will help them to develop another part of them and will give them a greater appreciation of when people are different, and I can only hope that a program like this can spread right across the length and breadth of the Caribbean, and even the wider world,” said Wright.
“This (NextPlay) experience will create a longstanding effect on the community and to allow for more harmonious relations,” the principal added, outlining that his school is located in the crime-ravaged area of Central Kingston, in which many of the students live.
Coach of Cleveland Eneas Eagles of Bahamas, Naaman Lightbourne, said the experience “has been mind-blowing”.
“The day when we won the tournament in the Bahamas I felt goose bumps. And here we are taking part in this wonderful activity… it has been great just to see the kids communicating with each other, sharing the ball, and importantly, that they have the opportunity to learn life skills that will help them in the future,” he said.
Carlyle Woods, coach of Siparia Boys RC, the Trinidad champion, said: “I am very proud of and excited for the kids. A lot of them have never been on an airplane before, so you can imagine the impact this will have on them, and hopefully, coming here and participating will help to widen their view on life.”
Woods, a veteran of grassroots football in his native Trinidad, said in his experience he has found that football mirrors life and vice versa.
“I have always said that there is no life skill that cannot be taught through football… the requirements of the game are the same as that of life, and it is for that reason, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Scotiabank and Concacaf for coming up with this initiative and I urge them to continue as it is doing a lot for the kids,” said Woods.
Coach and physical education teacher at All Saints Primary in Barbados, Barrington Yearwood, started by applauding the innovators of the NextPlay Program.
“First of all let me thank Concacaf and Scotiabank for creating this opportunity for children from the region as this is a fantastic opportunity for them, some of whom are travelling for the first time… it’s a great experience for the kids and they are enjoying it, and I am enjoying it also.
“The kids had the opportunity to, not only interact with their peers from the other Caribbean islands, but kids from Chicago. They also had the opportunity to interact with different coaches, some of them coming as far away as Ireland. It has been good all-round for these kids,” he said.
Attending the event were Concacaf General Secretary Philippe Moggio, Concacaf Director of Development Jason Roberts, Jamaica’s Senior Women’s coach Hue Menzies, Scotiabank’s Director of International Sponsorship Nelson Lanza, Executive Director of Chicago Sports Commission Kara Bachman, Chicago Park District Deputy Chief Program Officer Timothy O’Connell and Fox Sports Anchor John Strong.
The Scotiabank Concacaf NextPlay Program, in essence, is a wide-ranging activation that seeks to improve the lives of primary school age children, using their love for football as a vehicle to expose them to vital life skills.