Yadi Aliakbar, coach of the Toledo Celtics Soccer Club, demonstrates advanced moves for children ages 7 to 14 during a soccer minicamp at Smith Park for SmithFest.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Stop. Put it in front. Touch it back. Inside, outside. Touch in, touch out. Pass.
Seven-year-old Marvan Wadley attentively watched Yadi Aliakbar, coach of the Toledo Celtics Soccer Club, use advanced footwork to teach 30 other eager children how to play soccer.
Marvan came to Smith Park with his brother Martrel, 9, to practice football. Instead, they learned from a professional soccer club how to juggle, stop, and dribble balls.
The clinic was one of several free athletic and performing-arts events at SmithFest 2013, organized by Toledo Councilman Tyrone Riley at Smith Park.
The day-long festival attracted hundreds of local children and their families. They met University of Toledo men’s basketball players and learned how to play basketball, learned how to play tennis from Parker’s Tennis Camp, and learned how to cheer from Scott High School varsity cheerleaders. They got their faces painted at a YMCA fun bus, swam at the Roosevelt Pool, rode horses, and ate free hot dogs.
The day-long family-oriented event was a welcome sight to a community that has been exposed to violence.
councilman Riley said he was inspired to organize the event after he saw how excited children were at last year’s Roosevelt Pool grand opening.
Noting that “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop,” Mr. Riley said if the community could demonstrate to children that it cares about them, then perhaps children would choose recreational activities over violent ones.
Jazzmin Singleton, 11, lives just a few blocks from the park and visited with her brother and aunt just for the soccer clinic. An avid Celtics fan, she said she has wanted to learn to play for a long time, and she developed dribbling, stopping, and pass-faking skills at the clinic.
Mayor Mike Bell, who used to play soccer, also stopped by and practiced juggling with 11-year-old Aaliyah Armstrong.
Jason Lewis said he visited the clinic with his daughter Trinity, 7, because soccer makes her happy. As Trinity watched a demonstration, Mr. Lewis said he appreciated that its coaches were players who could teach children the game’s most important skills.
Having practiced skills, completed challenges, and answered trivia questions, children left Smith Park not only with new athletic ability and prizes ranging from bikes, soccer balls, and medals to professional player cards and hats, but also what coaches and parents hoped was a new passion for the park and athletic activity.
Martrel whispered that he was excited to win one of 10 brand-new bikes, while Marvan was happy to practice playing with his new soccer ball.
Grinning from ear to ear, their father, Marvin Wadley, proudly looked on.
“This is a beautiful thing. This is a foundation for kids to think and do something positive,” Mr. Wadley said. “... They could play soccer, they could play basketball, they could play croquet. As long as it’s something, they learn how to be a team player. I am so happy.”
Mr. Wadley said he wished the park had similar events every weekend — as does Mr. Riley.
As hundreds of children ran across the park and its fields, swung on swings, jumped in the playground, and learned sports, Mr. Riley said city leaders built the city and park with a vision, and he hoped the park could become a haven for children.
“If you look at the tennis court, you can barely see the lines, but there’s a nice net,” he said. “There’s a lot of cracks in it. It needs attention. One of the reasons for having an event like this is to get people to come out to the park and say, ‘Hey, if the tennis court looked like the basketball court, then maybe more people would utilize it.’ ”
Having grown up playing on the park’s baseball diamond and football field, Councilman Riley added that this was the first time in years that he had seen the park so busy and full.