Felician coach creates soccer charity

Soccer is life team

Felician College assistant women's soccer coach Bryon Estrada of Rockaway has taken his love for the game of soccer to a whole new level. The sport has taken him back to his native country for his Futbol es Vida project.

Estrada created Futbol es Vida ("Soccer is Life") in Guatemala during the summer of 2013. The project offers free soccer clinics to the youth of low income areas.

The program, however, started unofficially five years ago, when Estrada teamed up with his father to donate medals and t-shirts from his business, La Academia de Futbol, to the town he was raised in.

In 2012, Bryon Estrada Sr. put his son in contact with the mayor and sports director of the town of San Lucas Sacatepéquez, which is located 25 kilometers away from the capital city of Guatemala City.

With this discussion, Estrada wanted to help out the children of this area, which has been negatively impacted by crime.

"Guatemala has been affected as a country by the increasing violence and drug cartels," said Estrada. "In the last decade, we have seen an alarming increase of youth involvement in drugs, extortion, criminal behavior, and also school drop outs."

Through this project, the mission set forth by the mayor and Estrada was to reach out to the youth of these low-income areas, hoping to get them closer to sports and keep them away from the drugs and violence that has become an everyday routine in this country.

"Through this project, we want to inculcate self-worth, dependability, discipline, commitment, tolerance, and the feeling of being able to achieve goals in these children," Estrada added.

The first International Clinics of this project took place on August 3-4, with 141 children from the ages of 7-16 participating. Children traveled from all over Guatemala to take part in the program.

"I met a kid who was 11 that walked three and a half hours to come to our clinic, being that he lived in an area where cars can't go through due to very poor road conditions," said Estrada. "He was up at 4 a.m. to be able to make it to the 8 a.m. clinic."

For the event, 48 uniforms, 50 t-shirts, 150 used soccer balls, soccer cleats, socks, shorts, trophies, and medal were all donated through the program, and all camps and clinics are free of charge.

"This is a way for me to give back to my country and to the sport I love, being that soccer has given me a lot in my life," Estrada said.

As a child in Guatemala, Estrada played on the junior national team. In addition to his current work at Felician, he coaches at the club level for the West Morris Soccer Club. But he has one eye on future plans for Futbol Es Vida.

He plans to travel back to Guatemala in November and December. In the meantime, he is hopeful of organizing a charity soccer game to collect more donations to help with the project.

"This has been such a great and rewarding experience, and I am blessed for the opportunity to do this," he said.

Through the year, the project accepts individual donations of new or used equipment. Monetary donations are not accepted.

For more information on the project, visit its Facebook page, http://preview.tinyurl.com/o5cw2rz

--Nick Delahanty