More and more activities are popping up across St. John in an effort to keep the island’s youth active. The latest activity available to children island-wide is a grassroots soccer program, sponsored by the Virgin Islands Soccer Association.
The soccer team — which is free to join and open to children ages 4-19 — is coached by St. Thomas resident Ted “Duba” Luke, who sacrifices each Saturday morning to travel to St. John and work with the island’s children.
“We started the program on St. John 10 months ago, and there’s been a great response,” said Luke. “They love it, and I think we should try to expand it more.”
The Soccer Association an-nounced the program on the radio, and Luke put up flyers on St. John, and since then, the program has continued to grow.
“I had 24 players this morning, and I know everyone by name,” said Luke on Saturday, Oct. 14.
Luke keeps each of his players in line with the help of his assistant, Ardath Mockovciak, and with the support of the children’s parents, he said.
“The families of these children have been great,” said Luke. “They make sure the kids are on time, and that they have their water bottles. They stay around and assist with practice.”
Parental involvement is important to a child’s performance, according to Luke.
“The children tend to learn from adults, and when parents get involved, the kids are going to be more cooperative,” he said. “They’re going to listen, because hey, mommy’s doing it and daddy’s doing it. The children pay more attention and get more out of it too when their parents are there; they stay more in order.”
Although the St. John soccer team has yet to play a game, the kids are ready to compete, according to Luke.
No Games Yet
“We haven’t played any games here yet,” he said. “We are trying to organize something to take them to St. Thomas to play a game with their grassroots team. The kids want to play every day, and they want to compete; they are ready to compete.”
In addition to learning about healthy competition, playing soccer is great exercise for children, said Luke.
“Soccer is a good activity because you have to be disciplined,” he said. “The fitness level you have to have to play soccer is greater than any other sport. It’s the only sport that is played in every country in the world.”
Fitness Is Key
It is important for kids to learn the importance of fitness at a young age, according to Luke.
“I’m glad the program accepts kids as young as four, because if you get them to be physical now, when they get to 12 and 13, they will be active,” he said. “Fitness is the key.”
Luke, who grew up next to a soccer field and moved to the Virgin Islands in 1982, knows first-hand the important of fitness.
“I was originally born in Antigua, and my house was on the soccer field,” he said. “I was approached here by the secretary of the V.I. Soccer Association, who asked me for some assistance. I quickly volunteered because I want to stay involved and it’s a good cause.”
Soccer at Sprauve School
The sport of soccer is very important to Luke, he said.
“I’ve been with the program for two years now,” said Luke. “Soccer is my second life.”
Luke also extends his soccer expertise to the students of the Julius E. Sprauve School.
“I go to elementary schools, including Sprauve School, from 8 in the morning until 2:30 p.m.,” he said. “If the students come out in PE that day and want to play soccer, I’m there all day.”
Luke’s love of soccer is evident to the players’ parents.
“I always get compliments,” he said. “People tell me, ‘man, you’re doing a wonderful job, keep it up.’”
“I’m so inclined with the kids there now,” Luke continued. “Every time the whistle blows, they are very attentive, and that’s how you get things done. The kids and I are very close.”
Players Are Improving
Luke’s love of the sport extends to his students.
“The kids are so interested to learn the sport,” he said. “At noon, when we’re done with practice, they still want to kick. That’s a good sign with kids — when they want to do it and they’re enjoying it, I don’t stop them.”
All of the players have improved their skills since the St. John soccer program began, and the benefits of the program are spreading by word of mouth, said Luke.
“The improvement is so plain for the eyes to see,” he said. “We just got four new players today. With the close connection of the families on St. John, it’s easy to get the word out.”
In addition to teaching the kids discipline and the importance of fitness, Luke hopes to see his students one day represent the Virgin Islands.
“The best thing for me, that I would like to see from this program, is to sit back one day and see one of my students represent the Virgin Islands on an international level,” said Luke. “My aim is to improve the Virgin Islands soccer standard.”
There is room for more players, and the program is free.
“I would like people to come and check out the program, especially the parents,” he said. “Bring your kids along because soccer is something that can help you in the future. You can get a scholarship through soccer.”
“There are always scouts passing through, and you never know when you may get a call,” Luke added.
Program Is Free
Anyone with children who are interested in joining the St. John grassroots soccer program is invited to go to the National Park ballfield on Saturday mornings from 9-12 a.m.
“The only thing you have to bring is your water jug, and your soccer gear — shin guards and soccer boots,” said Luke.
Volunteers and assistants are also welcome. For more information, call the V.I. Soccer Association at 714-2828.