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Flint, MI—Children wearing neon-colored cleats, shorts, and shirts flooded the backfield of Berston Fieldhouse as they returned to playing soccer.
The July 16 practice was part of Flint Style Soccer’s summer camp—back after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19.
For Steve Wolbert, president and co-founder of Flint Style Soccer, being back on the field was satisfying. He said the number of children and support from parents made him feel as if Flint Style Soccer hadn’t skipped a beat.
“It’s great, this is for the kids, it’s for the parents, it’s for the community. So to have the excitement and support that we have shows us great promise for the future,” Wolbert said.
Wolbert said a few years before, Flint Style Soccer had tried to get a youth league started in the city. Though the league never got off the ground, Wolbert said the ultimate goal would be to try again after gauging excitement following the first few days of summer camp and the subsequent ‘drop-in’ soccer sessions held at Berston throughout the rest of the summer.
Wolbert was born and raised in Flint and spent his childhood playing soccer with friends. Together, they watched as many of the programs they grew up attending disappeared over the years. Now, years later, Wolbert and those same friends decided they’d be the ones to bring back the love for the sport.
“When I was growing up, the Flint Olympian Games were very popular and me and a lot of my friends that are out here today was coaches we were participants in that and we always thought that was such a great program but now with (Flint) schools not necessarily having those resources anymore we wanted to do something to introduce kids to the game,” Wolbert said.
Their timing turned out to be perfect. Just a year after their summer camp in 2017, the city learned that the soon-to-be Flint City Bucks would be calling Atwood Stadium their new home.
Though no official partnership has been established, Wolbert said his hopes are for the kids in Flint Style Soccer to attend a Buck’s game soon.
“We’ve been talking about ways to partner. Obviously, that’s the endgame. We want to be able to take these kids to a Flint Bucks game so they can see how the game is played so they can take it and embrace it on their own. Having the Bucks here is such a great opportunity for us to expand what we’re doing with Flint Style,” Wolbert said.
Enrique Vargas, co-founder of Flint Style, grew up in Flint playing soccer alongside Wolbert. Vargas shares his friend’s vision for the future of Flint Style, adding that he wants the program to continue to be free as it grows, while also remaining accessible for anyone who wants to join.
“I feel that in the last couple of years, the Flint children have been deprived of the game of soccer because of the cost. So what we’re trying to do here is set up free camps and eventually get to some point where we can do no-charge soccer. I know that’s a long goal but it’s a reasonable goal. With the right partners, donations and volunteers I think we can make it happen,” Vargas said.
Vargas would like to get to a point where equipment like uniforms, cleats and shin guards are all free for children. His biggest goal, however, would be to establish a travel soccer team.
“That is very expensive. I know travel teams have gone up in price since I was a little kid. It was pretty expensive for my parents back then but now I think it has doubled to where parents are paying close to $3000 or more,” Vargas said.
Javier Ramos, a 10-year-old from Flint, who has been playing soccer for about seven years, said he likes coming out to Berston and just getting to have fun.
“I like that there is teamwork and I get to learn about foot coordination,” Javier said.
For parents like Javier’s mom, Jodi Ramos, hacing access to free programming that she knows will keep her child active with sports is important.
“We’ve always wanted to make sure he stays in sports. So being able to have this program in the community where he can do that while growing with other players and kids while making sure he’s getting experience and enrichment is something we are grateful for,” Jodi said.
Wolbert thought back to when he first thought of the idea for Flint Style Soccer as he stood in the middle of the field, children and coaches running about all around him.
“My friends and I, we were all involved in soccer. It was such a great experience for us growing up and one day we were sitting around thinking ‘man it would be great to do something like this again. Why don’t we,’” Wolbert said.
Flint Style Soccer will be hosting “drop-in soccer” for children to come and play on July 22 and 29 starting at 6 p.m. at Berston Fieldhouse as well as on August 5, 12 and 19 at the same time.