Soccer for Success Program Paying Benefits in Chester

In Chester, where basketball is king, if you ask elementary school students what their favorite sport is, you might get an unexpected answer. That was the question put to Aniyah Burton-Fairfax on Tuesday at Stetser Elementary School. The nine-year-old fourth grader thought for a moment, and then replied emphatically, “soccer.”

Soccer for Success Sweet Potato DinnerButon-Fairfax is one of a growing number of elementary school students in Chester involved in the Chester Upland Soccer for Success program, an after-school youth development program that uses soccer as a tool to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy lifestyles for underserved students. Student participants and parents gathered at Stetser Elementary School on Wednesday for the Second Annual Soccer for Success Sweet Potato Dinner.

The program, which is operated by Widener University through a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation, started last year at three schools in Chester with 300 participants. So far this year, the program is at seven schools in Chester and Upland with more than 400 participants.

Brent Jacquette, head men's soccer coach at Widener University and coordinator of the program, said that he is seeing the benefits of the program in only its second year. "The data we've collected has shown positive evidence that the physical activity and nutrition is making a difference," Jacquette said.

Of the students participating in the program during the 2012-13 year, 72 percent improved or maintained their BMI (body mass index) percentile, 57 percent improved or maintained their aerobic capacity, and 68 percent decreased or maintained waist circumference, Jacquette said.

The nutrition aspect of the program was the focus of Wednesday's event, with participants and their parents partaking in a healthy dinner of shepherd's pie with sweet potatoes, salad and sweet potato cookies. The meal was prepared by Aramark food service and served by brothers of the Alpha Tao Omega fraternity at Widener. A representative from Crozer-Chester Medical Center, a partner in the Soccer for Success program, was on hand with information for parents on healthy lifestyles.

The sweet potatoes used in the meal were harvested less than two weeks ago from the garden Soccer for Success participants planted last May. Stetser students delivered 70 pounds of sweet potatoes to the Aramark kitchen at Widener on Monday where the children were given a tour of the kitchen and treated to lunch.

Janet Baldwin, principal of Stetser Elementary School, said the benefits of Soccer for Success go well beyond the physical activity and nutrition lessons that the children receive through the program. She sees increases school attendance by students involved in the program, and more self confidence.

"It has also provides kids with a safe place to be after school," Baldwin said. "That's a really big piece, especially in Chester."

For more information on the Chester Upland Soccer for Success program, visit http://chesteruplandsoccerforsuccess.org.

Widener University is a metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve more than 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free campus. Visit the university's website, www.widener.edu.

About the U.S. Soccer Foundation

The U.S. Soccer Foundation is the Major Charitable Arm of Soccer in the United States. Established in 1994, the U.S. Soccer Foundation has invested more than $57 million in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Soccer Foundation supports programs and field building projects that provide underserved youth in urban communities with opportunities that promote education, healthy lifestyles, leadership and positive alternatives to drugs, crime and other at-risk behaviors.


###


Photo Caption: Students in the Chester Upland Soccer for Success Program line up to fill their plates with sweet potato shepherd's pie, salad and sweet potato cookies during the Second Annual Soccer for Success Sweet Potato Dinner Oct. 23.