Inspired at World Refugee Day

FCB’s next home match comes Friday, June 29 against Erie Commodores SC. Admission is $8 at the door, $7 presale.

A note from FC Buffalo co-owner Nick Mendola on behalf of the club…

On Saturday, some of FC Buffalo’s players and staff had the opportunity to play a minor role in Buffalo’s World Refugee Day celebration at LaSalle Park.

This year’s celebration was not just a reminder of the role that soccer plays deep in our community, but also cautioned us not to take for granted some of the terrific organizations in our community.

Mateo and some WSIS kids

We were invited by Westside International Soccer, a group founded by former University at Buffalo soccer player Mateo Escobar and his wife Amanda Escobar. The team “uses soccer as a vehicle to provide a safe place to play, connect with mentors, breakdown barriers, and empower participants to become leaders in their community and their chosen life pursuits.”

Pretty great, right?

From Moment One with WSIS at this year’s World Refugee Day — an outstanding festival of music, food, and sport as it is — the power of Mateo and his group’s work could not have been more evident or striking; Their enthusiasm and patience with dozens of kids begging to get on the field is alone enough to warrant high-fives.

To tell the truth, there’s often a good deal of sheepishness that comes with participating on the stage of a big event in which the behind-the-scenes work is so detailed and extensive. The time commitment of spending part of our Saturday playing soccer and coaching kids is nothing compared with providing the platform for the kids, making sure they have water and food, securing sponsors for so many other parts of their day, and — oh, by the way — keeping it cool, calm, and collected as the focal point of dozens of kids’ big day out in the park.

We’re grateful that players like Euan Bauld, Lewis White, and Keane McIvor came to LaSalle on Saturday. Akean Shackleford later came to lend support to the Journey’s End Refugee Services team in the men’s tournament (later won by The Warriors), and our director of game day operations Ryan Schupp played a massive and independent role in overseeing the men’s tournament.

And that’s not to mention longtime FCB player Kendell McFayden. When a guy has played matches in over half of your nine seasons, it’s difficult to be surprised by them. But Kenny has gone above and beyond in our community work this season, often proffering his services, and never asking for publicity or praise. Switching to the personal article, I can personally say I’m immensely proud to have No. 23 as a part of FCB, regardless of whether he pushes another ball across the goal line in blue and gold.

When you know of a group WSIS, there’s a danger that it can be overlooked by some new initiative or group, or worse a masquerading group trying to leach off a similar vibe with far less noble intentions.

FCB loves the role we get to play in Buffalo, no doubt, and we appreciate the things we can do to bring something special to someone’s night at All-High or beyond. But what Mateo and his staff do to directly influence the lives of so many families with free soccer, not as their day jobs but as their passion, is quite simply an inspiration.

Buffalo is fortunate to have multiple strong soccer groups like WSIS and Buffalo Soccer Club, as well as the Journey’s End crew (We could hardly be prouder of The Situation Room‘s Ernie and Jeff for their walking the walk of growing their team (We also saw our old friends from Jericho Road)).

So to them and all those with the same spirit: Thank you. You are a huge part of what makes this city so special to all of us, a beacon to remind us of what we love here and of what we are capable.

We want to be a community club, and that’s not some B.S. marketing ploy. Doing that means supporting those who do well for our community, and we’d encourage you to consider learning more about WSIS. They are always looking for volunteers, and if you’re a player maybe put a team in their street soccer tournament on July 7 (We’ll be in Binghamton).

And one more note: In some sort of fortunate and poetic twist, we didn’t see what was printed on the back of WSIS’ shirts commemorating the day until we moved onto the next stage of our Saturday. That’ll do.

FCB’s next home match comes Friday, June 29 against Erie Commodores SC. Admission is $8 at the door, $7 presale.