In times of tragedy, the world of sports can help provide a much-needed distraction, no matter how temporary it may be.
That is the role stars from the U.S. soccer community will try to play on Monday night at "Soccer Night in Newtown" – a private and exclusive event for the town’s residents aimed at lifting the spirits of those devastated by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last month.
It is an idea that Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said came to him on a whim driving to work just days after the shooting. As a native of Guilford, Conn., a town just 45 minutes from Newtown, and alum of nearby Quinnipiac University, Canetti was deeply saddened and affected and wanted to do something quickly.
He reached out to Eric Da Costa, head coach of the men’s soccer team at Quinnipiac, to find out what kind of soccer community Newtown has. Da Costa said it was indeed a great area for the sport which has facilities, high school programs and the Connecticut Football Club youth program. They talked about doing a clinic with a handful of Dynamo players.
But what started out as a low-key small idea meant to simply provide a diversion to the community’s tragedy quickly picked up momentum and gained national attention.
The first call came from a friend of Canetti’s and former US soccer star Alexi Lalas, who the Dynamo president credits with getting the ball rolling. He said he received tons of calls from people asking, "What can I do to help?"
Lalas, along with other national team greats such as Cobi Jones, Tony Meola, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm and Christie Rampone, now lead a star-studded roster of participants. Major League Soccer has also become heavily involved. Commissioner Don Garber is planning on attending the event as well as 31 MLS players, at least one from each club. They will be signing autographs, posing for photos, participating in other interactive activities and conducting two clinics (click here for a full list of participants).
No surprise, when registration for the clinics opened to Newtown residents last Wednesday, they were full in a couple of hours. Because of strict fire codes, the event can only handle a certain amount of people, but around 1,200 people are expected to pass through the doors.
With all the star power and excitement of the event, Canetti doesn’t want the focus to get lost, giving the following mission statement:
"To bring a smile to kids' faces, provide the opportunity to have a little fun, offer a diversion from the terrible realities they're facing in the community, provide a positive experience to last a lifetime, and provide the positive message that people around the country care and are feeling for them and feeling the pain with them."