Somewhere in the U.S. or in another country thousands of miles away, a child’s eyes will grow as big as the smile on his face. He will grab a couple of soccer cleats, his first ever pair.
He will put them on, lace them up and figure out how to tie a bow.
The child will not know where the cleats came from. He will not know who sent them.
But Surprise Shadow Ridge senior midfielder Ryan Winje won’t mind that. He hasn’t been collecting soccer cleats to send to other parts of the world, to families and kids who are unable to afford a pair of their own, for recognition or even a simple “thank you.”
He’s doing it so others, who were unable to do so before, can have a pair of soccer cleats of their own while they enjoy playing the game they love.
“I started because I’ve been playing soccer all my life, and you always see kids on TV commercials or shows who don’t have enough money for shoes and shin guards,” Winje, 17, said. “I just wanted to give back to a sport that has helped me in my childhood. I just wanted to give back.”
The winter sports season happens to fall during the holidays, a season synonymous with giving. Many teams across the state do service projects during their season. For the Buckeye Verrado boys soccer team, a project to help came out of the blue and out of a tragedy.
“When the Newtown (Conn.) shooting happened, the kids and I got together and talked about what can we do to help out,” Verrado boys soccer coach Ted Campbell said. “A lot of times, people say, ‘Ah, what can you do.’ But I got a couple of kids together and said, ‘What can we do?'”
They decided to do a “hat day.” At Verrado High, students aren’t allowed to wear hats unless it’s for a special occasion. So on one particular day before the winter break, a student could wear a hat for a $2 donation.
The team raised $664.
“They had collected the money to send to the families in Newtown to help with funeral costs,” Campbell said. “And we noted that if the families didn’t need any more money for those costs, please just spend it the way they think is best.
“My team is that type of group to do that. But it wasn’t just the soccer players. They got other kids involved. It was something they felt good about and something they felt they can rally their teammates to.”
There is a large bin in Winje’s garage full of soccer cleats and shin guards, new and lightly used equipment that he’s been collecting for just over a year. Next week, he and Shadow Ridge boys soccer coach Scott Bergeron will send them to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, a national non-profit that will distribute the equipment to places around the world through its program called “Passback.”
According to the foundation’s website, there is an overwhelming gap between places (across the United States and in countries in Europe and Africa) that have requested equipment and the places that have equipment available.
Bergeron didn’t hesitate to contribute when Winje asked him to help with this project.
“Ryan’s always been a great kid,” Bergeron said. “He’s a leader on our team. He would give his shirt to another player if he needed to. I just thought it was amazing for him to take the time to give to people who don’t have the opportunity to buy shoes to play soccer. He’s just an amazing, outgoing kid.”
Despite being anonymous, Winje considers this his greatest assist.
“As long as they’re playing and playing in better cleats, I don’t mind that they don’t know who I am,” Winje said. “I just want to help them out.”