Last spring, the growing Everett Soccer Club was just beginning to gear up for their large spring season when COVID-19 hit and cancelled all of those plans – leaving empty soccer fields and unused soccer cleats sitting idle for a year’s time.
Now the Club is trying to preserve its growth and momentum from the last few years by starting up a spring season in April, but they’re trying to encourage that by eliminating barriers to entry – like having to by new cleats. President Eric Chajon, a former Club player and life-long Everett resident, said they have initiated the first “cleat exchange” program for the Soccer Club and hope that it can entice players to return even if they’re facing hardships from COVID-19.
“It’s almost like a recycling program,” he said. “Truthfully, a kid uses cleats three times a week for eight weeks. Then they get put away. That’s only about 30 times they get used. I also understand the pandemic has affected everyone differently. I don’t want anyone to say they can’t play because of the cost of equipment like cleats. Soccer can be played anywhere and I don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed if they have to buy cleats for three kids and pay for registration fees too. It can add up…I never want to see a kid miss an opportunity to play, especially now when these kids need a release from the screen-time and the Zooms.”
The way it is working is that every Tuesday evening, the Soccer Club will have a table at the Madeline English School, near the fields where they practice at RiverGreen. Chajon said they are inviting Club families and members of the community to donate new cleats or very slightly used cleats to the effort. It could even end up being a swap, he said, which is what he hopes to create for the future.
“A lot of kids last year were ready to go for the spring season and had brand new cleats that they never got to use,” he said. “Kids grow so fast that many of those cleats don’t fit them this year, and maybe they can donate them, or maybe they could swap them for ones that fit. Either way, we’re just trying to eliminate the barriers.”
Keeping the momentum going on Everett Soccer Club – formerly Everett Youth Soccer – is very personal to Chajon, who has served as president since 2018. Last fall, the Club was able to stage a successful in-house league to revive things a bit, and now they are looking to activate their more than 300-member program this spring back in the traditional manner, playing rivals and foes in the competitive Middlesex League.
Chajon has a long history with the Club, in fact, having played youth soccer in Everett when he was young. He said his father led the charge back then for a soccer community that was much smaller than it is today.
“I grew up in Everett playing youth soccer and my father was always my coach,” he said. “He was the one that always got us together to play year-round, whether renting out Pope John or the Rec Center or the old Immaculate Conception. He was always there and coached two or three teams…I aged out at 14 and went to Everett High and played varsity all four years. After Everett Youth Soccer, I went on to play for several club teams too and that went very well for me and I played soccer at UMass Lowell.”
While playing college soccer, Chajon said he also started coaching young players in the Lowell area and enjoyed it a lot. So, when he returned to Everett, he saw the youth soccer league practicing and felt it was time to give back.
“I lived in Everett and I worked in Everett at the time, and I really wanted to do something to give back to the kids the way people gave to me,” he said.
He began coaching one of the teams and had a great time, and after a little while former President John Perkins recruited him to take over the reins. It took some flexing and long discussions, but eventually Chajon took over in 2018.
Since that time the Soccer Club has nearly tripled in participation, and they’ve even added two girls-only teams as well.
“We started with 70 or 80 kids not including the high school teams,” he said. “At our peak now, we have more than 300 kids participating from pre-school to 8th grade. It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of satisfying work…The community had changed so dramatically and we had only a few players, but I knew the demographic in Everett supported a lot more players – and it eventually did. When I played, the soccer community was very small and we all knew each other. The Little League and youth football was so big. It’s flipped completely and now soccer is so huge in Everett.”
That is why this spring is so important for the Club, Chajon said. To keep their momentum and growth, he said it will be important to be flexible and understanding. If kids are to heal from this pandemic year, he said then let it be in part on the soccer field. To get them there, maybe it takes some donations of cleats.
“It really helped when we were growing to be able to break down barriers with language and other obstacles,” he said. “We don’t want to keep anyone from participating and this cleat drive is part of that overall goal.”