Ken Belkosky’s dream began with a movie.
Well, it was actually a movie ticket, a free one to the E Street Cinema given to him by a friend. The movie was Kicking It, a 2008 documentary about a homeless soccer team from Africa and its journey to the Homeless World Cup. By the end of the 98-minute film, Belkosky felt the urge to create his own Street Soccer team.
“I fell in love with the idea,” he said. That was a couple of years ago. Now his dream has materialized in the form of the Arlington Tigers, a street soccer team that has become the lone representative of the D.C. area. In less than a month, the Tigers will journey to New York City to compete in their first Street Soccer USA Cup.
The Tigers are hosted by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), a 20-year-old organization that serves more than 1,800 people in Virginia. The network offers a range of services from health care to housing programs.
A-SPAN helped Belkosky, a six-year veteran Street Sense vendor, off the street two years ago and shared his idea of creating a team. Sarah Morse, the ASpan coordinator of volunteer programs and special events, got on board May 2011, and the team has been growing ever since. But the program aims to provide more than just soccer.
“We believe ending homelessness is a team sport,” said SSUSA founder Lawrence Cann, in his organization’s latest promotional video.“We teach life and job skills through sports and help the homeless get back into life through connecting them to jobs, education and improving their health and self esteem.”
The Tigers practice Monday and Thursday evenings at Jennie Dean Park, a mere 20 yards from A-SPAN’s headquarters. The program is open to any of the clients they serve, but according to Morse, the team’s coach, a core of six to eight players show up consistently. Local volunteers also join in practices to ensure there are enough players for scrimmages.
Based in Northern Virginia, the Tigers have become the metro region’s only street soccer team after another program, the D.C. Knights, was put on hiatus. The Knights, organized through Neighbors Consejo, has undergone changes that have left the program without leadership.
During the Tiger’s infancy it was the Knights that provided guidance and even added a few of the Tigers to their roster for last year’s cup. Morse and Belkosky hope to return the favor by helping the Knights become active again and possibly adding some of their players to the Tigers.
For now, Morse is focused on finding potential sponsors and fundraising opportunities for her team to raise money to make the trip to New York in July; it is the first time in four years a city outside of D.C. has won the bid to host the tournament.
In the long term, Morse has another goal for the Tigers and street soccer as a whole in the D.C. metropolitan area.
“I would love to see this team become something that is just part of what A-SPAN does, one of their regular programs so that it is sustainable,” Morse said. “And then of course I would love to see a D.C. metro league develop … I think it would be fabulous to have at least three teams in this area who can all play and scrimmage each other and have a regional tournament.”
For now the Tigers must continue to practice and scrimmage in preparation to take on more well developed teams in New York, a reality Belkosky admits makes his team an underdog.
But if they won it all? Well, that would make a pretty good movie.