When Lucille Abate began taking her oldest son to soccer sixteen years ago, she had no idea that she would touch the lives of so many York Region children. When she was nominated Vice President of the Newmarket Soccer Club[i] (NSC) in 2005 she approached this male dominated sport with the naïve goal of wanting to bring something better to Newmarket kids. Elected President of the NSC in 2006, Lucille is the only female President in the club’s long history. However, it was during her tenure that the NSC evolved from a top-heavy organization of twenty-six board members to a high-functioning board of nine. In 2006 the club’s membership was low and it offered no technical programs. Now it is a streamlined, efficient club that enjoys a membership of 5000 and offers year-long training programs. All of this in just six short years.
Lucille came to the position with three goals in mind:
1. To upgrade the quality of the uniforms,
2. To bring in technical programming and development – there was no technical program director then – and;
3. To achieve the club’s 1978 dream of building their own indoor facility.
With the completion of the Newmarket Soccer Centre[ii] this summer – the only soccer club in Canada to have their own land and indoor facility without the aid of municipal funding or support – all three goals have been achieved.
Established in 1960, the NSC is one of the oldest continuously operating not-for-profit clubs in the country. It provides leagues for children and adults from Newmarket and surrounding areas. Their goal: to allow any person to participate in, or learn about, the game of soccer[iii]. Their representative teams play in various leagues across several provinces, travelling throughout Ontario, Quebec and the Eastern and North Central United States, attending over 130 tournaments. One of the highest ranking clubs in Ontario, the NSC hosts the annual Heart of York Tournament[iv], which attracts 15,000 – 20,000 people to Newmarket each year, making it the largest single event in the Town of Newmarket and one of the largest of its kind in Ontario.
How was the NSC restructured from a ‘sleeping giant’ to become one of the best soccer clubs in the province? Known as the “Grant Queen”, Lucille – who never wrote a grant in her life prior to her involvement with NSC – has secured 1.2 million dollars in grants for the club. The dollar number is probably closer to 1.5 million if one considers fundraising, sponsorship, and grants through Canada Summer Jobs. This grant brings in students, many former club members, to work with and mentor young players. This dollar amount also does not account for the hours, including evenings and weekends, which Lucille personally commits to the success of NSC, and for which she does not receive a penny. Now that’s commitment!
Other successes enjoyed by the NSC are: winning the Ontario Cup[v] – the first boys’ team in this area to ever win this honour. The NSC girls’ team won it three times back-to-back. Nine of the players who helped win three Ontario Cups, and a national title, now have NCAA[vi] (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Scholarships and many have secured Canadian scholarships and will go on to play soccer here. In 2011 the NSC was the recipient of the Ontario Soccer Association Gold Standard Award for Club Excellence[vii].
However much Lucille enjoys the recognized successes of the club, it is the way the game impacts lives on a personal level that she truly enjoys. During 2011 Toronto Football Club Days she spent hours making sure NSC players were included in field ceremonies. When she saw them lining up she broke down. None of them were her kids, but the smiles on their faces – “the feeling of knowing your work contributed to that” is what makes it all worthwhile. One of the kids who took part that day wrote a school essay stating that her most memorable summer moment was holding the hand of professional soccer player during the field ceremonies. That’s when Lucille realized that the club is not just about playing soccer; that it was “building memories for kids.”
In addition to donating full-time hours to making sure the NSC is the best that it can be, Lucille is also Vice President of the York Region Soccer Association[viii] and is involved in the Women in Soccer Committee and the Academy Working Group in the Ontario Soccer Association[ix]. She has come a long way from the soccer mom she was sixteen years ago, and she has committed herself 100% all the way. Named Canadian Soccer Association State Farm Neighbourhood Volunteer of the Year in 2011[x], Lucille was described in glowing words by her nominators, but the phrase that almost says it all is: “Winning the Canadian Soccer Association State Farm’s Volunteer of the Year Award would go a long way to showing Lucille just how proud we are of her and all of her family, who so generously sacrifice their time with her so that she can be all that she is for the Newmarket Soccer Club. Her sons no longer play for the Club, yet she is committed to leading the success of the Club anyway.”
The transformative power of giving has benefitted the residents of Newmarket, providing a top-notch soccer club that now boasts its very own indoor facility. The facility offers indoor space for activities ranging from baseball to senior’s lawn bowling. A transformation has also occurred for Lucille, adding to her life in ways she could never have foreseen. Her repayment is simply watching how the NSC has grown and developed, the culmination of which is the completion of the Newmarket Soccer Centre. In Lucille’s own words: “Through my delegation and tenure, the Club now has a permanent footprint in the building of the indoor facility. All the work has not gone unnoticed. Others may try, but the Newmarket Soccer Club is a trailblazer leading that path.”
[i] http://www.newmarketsoccer.com/ [ii] http://www.newmarketsoccer.com/HL-Pages/indoor.html [iii] http://www.newmarketsoccer.com/Home-Pages/about.html [iv] http://www.newmarketsoccer.com/Home-Pages/tournaments.html [v] http://www.ontariosoccer.net/Competitions/ProvincialChampionships/OntarioCup.aspx [vi] http://www.ncaa.com/ [vii] http://www.ontariosoccer.ca/OSABlog/index.php/archives/5099 [viii] http://www.yrsa.ca/ [ix] http://www.ontariosoccer.net/ [x] http://www.canadasoccer.com/state-farm-neighbourhood-soccer-volunteer-of-the-year-p145169