It’s World Cup time. Soccer fans are eagerly awaiting a month of World Cup matches from June 12 to July 13 in Brazil. Two local soccer aficionados were instrumental in bringing special soccer activities to northeast Denver to share in the excitement of the World Cup. Stapleton resident Brandon Blew and Park Hill resident Bob Boyle have joined forces with the Sie Film Center and Three Lions Pub to bring four days of films for the whole family, a soccer skills and movie camp for kids ages 6 to 10, and a futsal camp for kids ages 11 to 15.
But it’s not just World Cup Soccer that excites these two soccer fans; it’s their belief that soccer offers important opportunities for kids. Boyle sees soccer as an ideal vehicle for social change because “it’s easy to set up, requires minimal gear, is low cost, has the wellness component, appeals to a variety of communities and is gender neutral.”
Both Blew and Boyle grew up playing soccer and have continued to make it a part of their lives through coaching and playing on adult leagues and on a professional basis. Both are committed to sharing the benefits of the game with those who have not had the opportunity to play for financial reasons and/or because opportunities haven’t been available.
Boyle discovered soccer thanks to a project developed by his father, who he describes as something of a soccer pioneer. In an effort to enable kids to play soccer in their Michigan neighborhood, Boyle’s dad connected with a Brazilian man in town. “They put together a team of kindergartners and first-graders and taught us how to play,” recalls Boyle. “The Brazilian guy would do tricks and we’d never seen anything like it. We were hooked.” Boyle was awarded a soccer scholarship to Bowling Green State University in Ohio where he studied management and met his wife. After moving to Denver, Boyle explored other sports but was drawn back into soccer after having his children, now ages 7, 10 and 12. “The magic of the game pulls you in,” he says.
Blew, the father of two children ages 8 and 10, credits soccer with keeping him engaged in school throughout his life. “I attribute that to the rigors of training and a very focused schedule,” says Blew. After attending Trinity University in San Antonio, Blew taught English in Mexico, and then got his master’s in Latin American studies. By chance, he found out about a position with America SCORES’ Denver program, the local branch of a national organization that combines soccer and poetry curriculums and a service learning component in southwest Denver. “It wasn’t exactly aligned with my graduate degree but teaching soccer, managing teachers and working with primarily Latino youth was pretty close to my background,” he says.
With a philosophy that sports and academics can be mutually beneficial, America SCORES Denver serves more than 320 third- to fifth-graders in 10 DPS elementary schools in southwest Denver, where the population is 90 percent Latino and more than 90 percent are on free lunch. As part of the soccer and poetry program, students perform their original works of poetry in front of 600 peers and family at an annual poetry slam. “A lot of the confidence you see exhibited on the soccer field comes out in their poetry performances,” explains Blew. “You see a 9-year-old get up on stage and read their poem to 600 people with exuberant confidence. It’s pretty phenomenal to watch.”
The program uses a variety of measurement methods to evaluate the success of the program in terms of fitness level, writing ability and attendance. Results show increases in the students’ fitness and literacy levels. Attendance rates are higher than district-wide levels and teachers report better behavior and increased attentiveness from the kids in the program.
Boyle and Blew met and became friends when Boyle served on the board of America SCORES Denver. Inspired by what Blew was doing, Boyle, an energy management consultant, established Soccer Electric, a nonprofit startup he runs in his spare time that aims to grow the game of soccer and provide access to all kids, regardless of socioeconomic background. The two organizations work in full support of each other, and oftentimes together, all for the purpose of encouraging a love of soccer.
Soccer Electric has a variety of projects in northeast Denver, including helping schools, corporations and organizations set up soccer programs. An offshoot of Soccer Electric’s program is 303 Futsal, which promotes the smaller-scale soccer game typically played with five players on each side, on a basketball court or other small area that is more readily available than a full-sized field. Soccer Electric helped set up the McAuliffe Futsal Club when there were more kids interested in sports than there were spots on the school’s various sports teams.
Working together on various projects such as the film festival and soccer camp gives Boyle and Blew many opportunities to keep soccer at the forefront of their lives, which can become a little compulsive for both men. “The game always finds its way into my life,” says Boyle whose wife, Emily, will sometimes say “let’s just not talk soccer.” “I’m just a guy who’s passionate about the game and wants to help more kids, and frankly adults, to play soccer,” he says. Blew would agree. “The game just brings people together, regardless of your background. You put a ball out there for people and everything else just fades away.”