FREE SOCCER EVENT HONORS OUR FALLEN HEROES
If you’re in town on Memorial Day weekend, look for the Kick for Nick collection net in front of the American Legion.
Those new to Wilton may be curious what the net is all about. Many Wiltonians already know the story behind Kick for Nick, a foundation started in 2006, in part thanks to an “Outside the Lines” segment that aired on ESPN.
What has happened over the last eight years has been truly remarkable. The story begins with the wish of a Wilton son, and it has grown into an enduring symbol of hope that transcends borders and cultures, even in the face of war.
A FALLEN SOLDIER, AND THE POWER OF SOCCER
Growing up in Wilton, Nick Madaras was an avid soccer player, coach, and referee. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Wilton High School. While home on leave during the summer of 2006, Nick told his family about all the Iraqi children he saw playing soccer. If balls were scarce, he saw them playing with tin cans. Nick had an idea. He started collecting balls to give to the children. He shared their love of soccer, and he thought his gift would be a way to connect despite the atrocities of war. He never got the chance. On September 3, 2006, Nick was killed in Iraq. He was only 19 years old.
Wilton’s Ken Dartley, a veteran of the Korean War, heard about Nick’s unrealized dream. With the Madaras family’s blessing, he placed a net in Wilton’s town center, with the intention of collecting some soccer balls. Instead, hundreds of balls were donated, which U.S. soldiers then distributed to children in Iraq. Kick for Nick was born. Every single ball included the handwritten inscription “PFC Nick Madaras” as a reminder of who had inspired the gift of kindness and camaraderie.
Since that initial collection, Nick’s vision of bringing people together through the sport of soccer has hardly waned.
“The collection net in front of the James B. Whipple American Legion Post 86 is a testament to the persevering support that the citizens of Wilton provide to underprivileged children around the world,” says Shalini Madaras, Nick’s mother. She goes on to reveal Kick for Nick’s staggering impact. “This support has touched children in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, Djibouti, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Ecuador, Jamaica, Liberia, India, Honduras, Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, and, later this month, will include Aboriginal children in Australia.”
A TRIBUTE - AND SOCCER TOURNAMENT - LIKE NO OTHER
Like Ken Dartley, Wilton residents Andrew and Carole Allers had heard of Nick’s love of soccer and were eager to support Kick for Nick. The result? The Nick Madaras Memorial Day Challenge.
Now in its ninth year, the event features three teams in round-robin play. One team is Allers’s Ancient Warriors, a men's team in the over-40 division of a statewide soccer league. Many of the Ancients are Wilton dads. The second team is made up of Soccer Extreme / CT Rush coaches. They oversee Wilton's travel soccer program and the company’s founder and president, John Salvatore, was Wilton High School's girls varsity soccer coach.
And the third team? Nick’s high school teammates, affectionately called Wilton Blue.
U.S. Army Capt. Tom Thresher, Nick’s childhood friend and Wilton Blue’s official captain, confirms that 20 teammates are on this year’s roster with several others coming to support but not play. “We all stop what we're doing to attend. We’re united by soccer again, and our love for Nick. I've been to many different places in the world, most recently to Afghanistan, which is desolate, hostile, and overall just a completely different world than anywhere else on earth. Even amongst the violence and high tensions, Nick knew that one thing remains universal, and that is the ability of soccer to unite. The Kick For Nick program has been the medium through which those peaceful goals have been achieved.”
The 9th Annual Nick Madaras Memorial Day Challenge will take place on Monday, May 25, 2015, on Kristine Lilly Field in Wilton, Connecticut. It will start at 11:30 a.m., immediately following Wilton’s Memorial Day parade. Admission is free. In the past, hundreds have filled the bleachers while hundreds more circle the field, all to cheer on family and friends in a soccer tournament like no other.
As a tribute to Nick, attendees are asked to bring a soccer ball to place in the collection net alongside Lilly Field. Each ball donor will receive a free raffle ticket. All raffle sales will be donated to Kick for Nick. Raffle prizes include signed memorabilia, soccer equipment, tickets to professional matches, and gift certificates from local soccer camps and academies. The referees officiating the matches are donating their time. All the proceeds from the food and drink sales will be donated to Kick For Nick, courtesy of Tavern on 7. Griffin King, a Wilton High School student, will sing the national anthem. Big Daddy T will DJ the event. Sponsors of the event include Tavern on 7, the Ancient Warriors, Soccer and Rugby, and Soccer Extreme / CT Rush Soccer and many other local businesses.
As the event nears, Andrew Allers hopes the day will inspire a new generation of Wilton residents. "I never got the chance to meet Nick, but I feel like I know him. Over the last 9 years I've met his family, played soccer with his teammates, heard stories about him and his love for the game. I have a strong sense that Nick would have loved this event and it’s a way of keeping his legacy alive and present in the town in which he grew up."