Soccer is one of the most inclusive sports in the world.
Even though that’s the case, sometimes it takes some close-to-home interest to get people excited about the sport.
For years, L.A. Matheson wasn’t considered to be a soccer school. That was before the 2014 season when the junior boys’ team soccer team went on a memorable playoff run. They ended up winning the Fraser Valley championship after beating Princess Margaret Secondary in the finals.
“At least 100-150 people came out to that game,” said Matheson midfielder Arjun Hothi.
According to Hothi and teammate Avi Kumar, that win sparked an interest in soccer around the school that didn’t exist before.
That was one of the reasons why a Hothi, Kumar, a few other teammates and teacher Mr. Sahota started ‘Camp Next’ at L.A. Matheson.
“We wanted to teach kids to play soccer with skill and leadership,” said Kumar. “We never had that coming into high school, and we wanted to make it easier for the grade eight kids who are coming here for the first time.”
Hothi and Kumar talked to the Now-Leader about wanting to show kids in Surrey that soccer is a great way to spend your free time, rather than partaking in other negative activities.
“So many kids are susceptible to gangs, drugs, violence,” said Hothi. “We want kids to build bonds with us instead. These kids coming to our camps were at risk for so many different things. “
Before kicking off this community project, Hothi and Kumar went through programs learning how to teach soccer to kids.
“We needed to know how to take control of it,” said Hothi. “We went through rec centre programs so that we could get a handle on it.”
The boys started Camp Next in the summer of 2015. Over the past three years of running the program, the boys have seen it flourish.
During their first year, there were about 50 students that showed up for the summer camp. That number tripled to 150 students in year two.
Last year, approximately 300 students showed up for ‘Camp Next.’
Not only did attendance at the annual camp grow, but more individuals stepped up to become leaders. Hothi and Kumar said there were about 15 leaders during the first year. Now, there are about 25 leaders helping kids learn about soccer and leadership.
“We’ve seen the growth of the program for sure,” said Hothi. “A lot of the boys from senior soccer come back up after they graduate.”
“We also have kids who are younger than us stepping up to be leaders,” he said. “They will move up as leaders after we graduate.”
Not only is the program helping kids in the community learn the values and skills of playing soccer, but it’s also raising awareness about Matheson’s soccer team.
“We noticed before that not many kids were watching our games,” Hothi said. “Now, kids are coming up to us in the halls and asking how our game went.”
“A lot of these kids know us by name,” he said. “It’s really special.”
Aside from the hallway glory, Hothi and Kumar both mention the impact that these kids have had on them.
“It’s amazing to see how much we’ve changed these kids, and how much they’ve changed us since we started this,” said Hothi.
“The relationships we’ve built with these kids is special,” Kumar said. “They come from across the city to change us, and we want to do the same for them.”