It started as a class on developing leadership skills, but it turned out to be God’s hand working to bring people together through the game of soccer while raising awareness of homelessness.
Junior Tony Petruso had signed up for Leadership, a semester-long elective course for juniors and seniors at St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon. On the first day of class, students received the assignment to design a service project that would take the entire semester to plan and execute. Focus on something you’re passionate about, teacher Nancy Holden-Nims told the class.
So Petruso took his passion for soccer and organized a game between the St. Dominic boys’ soccer team and the St. Louis Roadies. He planned for donations to go to Peter and Paul Community Services, an ecumenical agency that provides housing and supportive services to people who are homeless, including those with mental illness or HIV/AIDS.
It was to be an event in which he envisioned connecting homeless people with the St. Dominic community in more than one way. “I was really hoping to help, but also wanted us to do something together,” he said.
A midfielder and forward with the St. Dominic boys’ soccer team and member of the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club, Petruso learned about the Roadies through some of his dad’s friends, including Roadies’ head coach Joe Campanella.
The teams met May 11 for some fast-paced futsal at St. Dominic’s gymnasium. Petruso wanted the game to be played similar to street soccer, which the Roadies play. The five-on-five competition is typically played on a hard court, called a pitch, with walls to prevent the ball from leaving the field of play.
There was plenty of advance planning and publicity to manage for the event. Petruso secured several sponsors, including World Wide Technology, Smoothie King, Soccer Master and St. Louis Scott Gallagher, all of which donated toward equipment and team jerseys, and t-shirts and concessions to sell to spectators.
St. Dominic ended the night in victory, with an 11-8 win over the Roadies. But to hear them talk afterward, members of both teams certainly felt the pressure coming into the game.
As soon as he walked into St. Dominic’s gym, Roadies goalie Cliff Byrd noticed the multiple soccer championship banners on display. “That was a little intimidating,” nodded Byrd, who played with the U.S. National Team in the Homeless World Cup last year in Norway.
St. Dominic players were equally impressed with the talent of their opponents, including Nelson Mustafa, a refugee from Sudan. He came out of the gate scoring a goal in the first five seconds of the game. Mustafa is one of several African refugees on the team who have fled their home countries in search of political asylum.
“They caught me by surprise — I was shell-shocked the first two goals,” said St. Dominic goalie Mason Clynes.
As part of his class project, Petruso also developed a presentation to educate people about homelessness. He talked to several classes at his former grade school, St. Joseph in Cottleville, about the face of homelessness in St. Louis, and gave an overview of the Roadies and Peter and Paul Community Services.
The project also incorporated St. Dominic’s four pillars of prayer, study, community and service. “We try to incorporate that into everything we do here,” Petruso said. “Prayer is a big part of my life, and everything I have comes from God. We prayed for this event to go well, and for those who are homeless.”
St. Louis Roadies
The St. Louis Roadies street soccer club was formed 11 years ago by people who are homeless, formerly homeless or newly arrived as refugees. The club is sponsored by Peter and Paul Community Services. The club is a vehicle to help players remain sober, find housing and jobs, pay debt, access health care, reconnect with family and create meaningful relationships with other players.
Practices are generally held on Friday evenings from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Peter and Paul Community Services’ main offices at Garfield Commons, 2612 Wyoming St. in the Benton Park West neighborhood of south St. Louis. Open practices for the public to join take place the last Friday of the month. To check the schedule, email Joe Campanella at [email protected].
The Roadies have joined with Soccer Master to sell supporter scarves to benefit the team. All Soccer Master locations have scarves available for a suggested donation of $25. All proceeds will be used to sponsor a player to compete locally, nationally or even internationally. Donations are tax deductible. For more information on the St. Louis Roadies, visit www.stlroadies.org. For Soccer Master locations, visit www.soccermaster.com.