A SEASON DEDICATED IN MEMORY OF ALYSSA ALHADEFF
On February 14th, 2018, a horrific school shooting occurred in Parkland, Florida, taking the lives of 17 innocent students and teachers and wounding 14 others. For us in the Pacific Northwest, Parkland may seem far away, but this tragedy sent shockwaves all across the country and impacted the Eagleclaw family in a powerful way.
Among the victims was Alyssa Alhadeff. Only 14 years old, Alyssa was one of the youngest victims of this tragic event. Just a freshman in high school, Alyssa dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. She was also a member of the Parkland Travel Soccer team as an attacking midfielder. Soccer was in Alyssa's DNA! Her mom, Lori played competitive club soccer. And it is through soccer that Alyssa and her family are connected to Eagleclaw.
The Vorenkamp family are longtime members of Eagleclaw Football Club. Kevin and Amy Vorenkamp have three children in our program: Kaia (Advanced Academy F03/4), Quinlan (M07 Nighthawks) and Afton (Primary Academy). Amy and Alyssa's mom, Lori, were childhood friends in New Jersey. Although they did not attend the same elementary school, they both ended up on the same soccer team at a club called Hillsborough United. The team was very stable and stayed together for many years, something that is increasingly rare in youth soccer today. Over those years, their coaches, Mr. Tilly and Mr. Dyer, led the team to many accomplishments. They won the State Cup when the girls were 17 and were also USA Cup Champions. Many players on that team were selected to the Region 1 Olympic Development Program (ODP) team. They traveled to Denmark and Sweden for international tournaments, winning the tournament in Sweden and advancing to the semi-finals in Denmark. They defeated the Canadian national team at the U17 level in Ottawa. Amy and Lori also played together on their high school team, winning the only state championship in school history as seniors.
Amy and Lori were schoolmates, teammates and they are lifelong friends. Lori lost her daughter on February 14th, and the Alhadeff family is obviously heartbroken and feels the pain of her loss more deeply than anyone. But this tragedy has also impacted Amy and her family in a profound way. A childhood friendship and years spent training, traveling and battling together on the soccer pitch bonded Lori and Amy in unique ways. And those bonds lead to shared grief over this terrible tragedy.
Youth sport, and soccer in particular, is a great unifying force. Through shared triumphs and battles on the soccer pitch, young players make lifelong friends and memories and develop a passion for the sport. Whether or not they achieve individual or team success, the youth soccer experience can bind players as friends - for life. These experiences are the sinews that connect us, regardless of where in the world we end up. They render irrelevant the 3,200 miles between Parkland and Seattle. And as young players grow into young adults and then parents, they instill in their own children a passion for the sport, all in the hope that their children will have a similar experience. Lori and Amy are "soccer moms". We think all the "soccer moms" and "soccer dads" out there know exactly what we are talking about.
For youth soccer clubs, including Eagleclaw, we must continue to remember that our mission is bigger than just developing talented players. Much bigger. It's bigger than wins, losses, leagues, tournaments or "pathways". Its easy for parents, coaches and club officials to get so focused on a specific desired long-term goal, that they fail to see perhaps the most important part of a youth soccer player's journey is happening right here, right now! They are part of a community, a soccer-family and are making memories and relationships that will last a lifetime. This most important part of development is happening right before our eyes. See it. Embrace it. Encourage it.
The Eagleclaw family has been wounded, indirectly, by this tragedy. For that reason, Eagleclaw is dedicating the entire 2017/18 season to the memory of Alyssa Alhadeff. We play. We live. For Alyssa.
We had the opportunity to speak with Amy about her friendship with Lori and how each and every Eagleclaw player can honor Alyssa's life. "I want our players to know that whenever they feel tired, beat up, like they can't give anymore, they CAN! They should think of Alyssa and the other 16 victims who truly can't, and then dig deep and give more", said Amy. "That's what I want Eagleclaw players, and all soccer players in Seattle, to know and remember. Whether they are on the soccer field, in the classroom or with their families and friends, they should breathe, play and live for Alyssa and the other kids who can't anymore."
Eagleclaw stands with the Alhadeff family and the Vorenkamp family. We honor Alyssa's life. We remind ourselves that our mission is not only to develop soccer players, but to contribute to the development of kind, empathetic human beings. We are committed to providing the sporting environment and experiences that allow friendships to blossom, grow and last a lifetime, like Lori's and Amy's. Our soccer family is grieving, but we will channel our grief into positive actions that will make our soccer family stronger. And so, we play. We live. For Alyssa.