STRATFORD—Two weeks ago, Caroline Das sat inside a soccer stadium in France, looking down on Team USA as it competed in the 2019 World Cup.
Out on that field stood Alyssa Naeher, who once upon a time called Stratford home.
On Tuesday morning, Das, a rising junior at Stratford High, was out on the pitch at the Chico Chacurian Soccer Field at Short Beach—a far cry from France and the two stadiums she visited while watching World Cup soccer earlier this summer.
As she looked out upon the 23 third-throug-fifth graders taking part in the 2019 Kickstart Soccer Camp, she couldn’t help but wonder if the next Alyssa Naeher might be out there somewhere.
“It’s crazy, but it’s a fact that anything is possible and anybody, even from a small town like Stratford, can go to the big leagues,” Das said. “All of these kids could have the potential to go as big as that, to go as high as a professional career.”
While Naeher and her Team USA teammates are the talk of the country’s sports world heading into Wednesday’s ticker-tape in New York City, Das and some of her Stratford High schoolmates are busy at work at the grass roots level of the game.
Kickstart Soccer started 16 years ago when former Bunnell High player Taylor Ault approached Bill O’Brien, the senior director of athletics and facilities at the Sterling House, with an idea to start something special that would give back to the community through the sport of soccer.
Ever since, Kickstart Soccer has been headed up and organized by high school students as a way to give back to the sport and the town that has given them all so much.
This season, Stratford rising senior Helen Lefever and Das are the head counselors of a group overseeing 23 young soccer players.
“As a kid, I did Sterling House and that was me getting into my soccer career,” Lefever said. “That helped me get where I am today, as starting goalie at Stratford High. I love the sport and I want kids to love the sport, too.”
As a goalkeeper, Lefever also kept her eye on Naeher during Team USA’s run to the World Cup championship.
Once a huge fan of former Team USA goalie Hope Solo, Lefever is proud to be aboard the Naeher bandwagon.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” Lefever said. “It represents our hometown really well and it really does show little kids what they could do when they get older.”
The Kickstart camp is mix of soccer skills and games to keep the young players active and having fun.
For three hours a day, from 9:30 in the morning to 12:30 in the afternoon, campers and counselors are in action.
Das was once a camper, so Kickstart remains very special to her.
“It’s awesome to give back,” Das said. “I went it to as a little girl and you just play and have fun. I looked up to the counselors and it’s fun to give back and teach them what the counselors taught me.”
In addition to teaching the game, and having fun, all the counselors are also wondering if the next Alyssa Naeher is ready to rise up from Stratford’s soccer fields to burst onto a national stage somewhere down the line.