The idea started to come to Elijah Smarr after he was awarded the Hun School’s Kay Keifer Citizenship award for the junior class last year.
The current Hun senior was asked to pick a charity for the school to donate money to. And the school in Princeton picked to partner with Goals Beyond the Net.
“It all started with an initiative between me and my mom (Mikelci) with Goals Beyond the Net,” Smarr said. “I wanted to give to Haiti and my uncle (Ron Celestin) has been involved with this organization for a very long time donating supplies and things like that. I thought this would be a great addition to the Hun School. Not only can we give back to the community, but help out others and put Hun on the map and show people what Hun is doing.”
The end result was the Playing 4 Change 5v5 indoor soccer tournament, which was held Feb. 2 at Hun. The tournament wound up with 44 players registered on six teams with 16 Hun boys soccer players volunteering as the referees and coaches. The event raised $550 to donate to Goals Beyond the Net, as well as collecteing 30 pairs of soccer cleats and other soccer gear that will be sent to Hatti to help other young boys and girls play the game.
“It turned out way better than we thought it would,” said Smarr, who in addition to being an organizer of the event was also one of the volunteer coaches. “It was good because we were able to see the process from the start and I felt like it was such a good idea that we had the whole program involved from the freshmen up to the varsity team. Everyone was able to come together and collaborate and pull it off. We had all three teams. It was open for everyone to help. It was good to be around an environment we all love, which is soccer.”
Choosing to play the tournament to benefit Goals Beyond the Net was an easy decision for Smarr and one that the whole Hun soccer program was able to rally around.
“The organization is close to Elijah not only because it is a foundation to help young boys and girls play soccer in Haiti, it is also the country his mother is from and his uncle, Ron Celestin, serves on the board,” Hun head coach Pat Quirk said. “Ron also happened to be my gym teacher back in fifth grade and has been a resource to me as a coach. Once our team connected with Goals Beyond the Net, we realized how much we had in common which is to use the game of soccer to help develop successful people.”
The tournament utilized two gyms at Hun and the event went from 3-10 p.m. Games were comprised of two 12-minute halves and every team played at least six games. Smarr’s team comprised of sixth grade boys eventually lost the championship game of the tournament to a squad comprised of Julia Oliveria, Sydney Gunn, Tina Martins, Olivia Spektor, Paige Thomas, Megan Thomas and Tooni Olaleye. The team was coached by Alex Donahue.
“We had a lot of support from the school,” Smarr said. “Kids that were on campus came down to the gym to watch. It was good for the younger kids to have fans and see what the atmosphere is like at the Hun School.
“I would definitely like to see this continue because it is such a good thing that we started and it can only improve from here on. I have no doubt in my mind that it will continue and be even better next year.”
It was a long day for all involved but one that was certainly rewarded. Smarr wound up coaching right through to the final game.
“My team happened to go to the finals, which was good,” he said. “Having the youngest team there the kids showed great grit and determination. It was a team of sixth grade boys. The whole thing could not have been done without the help of Coach Quirk. My mom also played a huge role. And the athletic department helped produce it and provide the facilities.”
Smart will graduate this year, but Quirk expects the tournament to become an annual event at the school after exceeding expectations this year.
"I think the event exceeded what I originally thought," Quirk said. "I knew we had a tight time constraint because of the time in the gym so I thought five teams would be a perfect number and we ended up with six.
"Because of the success and positive feedback we received from this year we will make it an annual event. Each year I will lean on the captains to help put it together."
For more information on Goals Beyond the Net, or to make a donation, visit the website at https://www.goalsbeyondthenet.com.