For the second year in a row, Foundation's Cocktails and Cleats gala a rousing success
Why walk when you can run?
Why run when you can fly?
Why fly when you can glide?
Why glide when you can soar?
Words of wisdom from 12-year-old Jesse Brittain, a young man who received a standing ovation after sharing his poem at the Philadelphia Union Foundation's second annual "Cocktails and Cleats" gala.
Jesse is one of more than 2,000 children who have benefitted from the foundation's work in recent years.
The foundation's goal is to serve local youth with opportunity, and "Cocktails and Cleats" is an event that raises funds for those programs while doubling as a celebration of past achievement in the community.
"All of the feedback has been just wonderful," said Rick Jacobs, the executive director of the Philadelphia Union Foundation. "We were so excited with the turnout, almost 500 people. The venue and the excitement I think has just been exponentially greater than it was last year, and last year was a super event."
The reception hall at Vie was a veritable "who's who" of local soccer personalities, featuring all members of the Union first team, plus the technical staff, sponsors and donors.
Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz adressed the crowd on hand and in the aftermath of the event provided the following remarks:
"All anyone has to do is listen to the children of Chester at last night's event to understand the profound positive impact the Philadelphia Union Foundation is making in Chester and the Greater Philadelphia region," said Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz. "I would like to personally thank our partners and all those involved that made sure that this night was and continues to be the hallmark of our many footprints in the community at large as we continue to grow the sport of soccer and improve the lives of the next generation of children in the city of Chester."
The cocktail hour featured a silent auction, with items ranging from Philadelphia Eagles and Flyers gear to a signed Schalke 04 jersey.
Comcast SportsNet anchor Amy Fadool hosted the evening program, which incorporated a live auction, various presentations, and a "chalk talk" question and answer session with manager John Hackworth, Maurice Edu, and Sebastien Le Toux. The Foundation still awaits the final figures to see just how successful the night was in terms of raising funds, but what the event did to raise awareness was priceless.
"We worked really hard to take what we learned from last year's event, which was a good event, but we wanted it to be a great event," said foundation chairman Michael Curry. "I think tonight we nailed it. One, I believe the program was really appropriate. You heard a lot of the themes, such as "celebrate," and what we're here for is the kids. Everything went back to the kids and the programs that support them in their communities. I think that was successful. But most importantly, and Nick Sakiewicz got right to the point early, is that we're here to raise money to support those programs. We had a really good night."
In addition to the fundraising effort, two local figures were honored for their contributions to the Philadelphia soccer community.
Bob Kozlowski was presented with the 2014 "Building Blocks Award."
Kozlowski has served the soccer community in various capacities for more than 30 years. He coordinated youth soccer leagues for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. He's a former College Referee of the Year, with decades of experience at the collegiate, high school, and youth level.
Additionally, Kozlowski was on one of the original committees that attempted to bring Major League Soccer to Philadelphia. He also started the "Coats for Chester Campaign, " an annual collection that provides for local families in need.
"I've been around a long time and I actually wanted to thank the Union for bringing this team here," Kozlowski said. "I was on a couple of committees to bring a team to Philly and it never happened. It's just something that the people can take hold of. It's great because it raises the level of play with the kids. Anticipation, effort, everything - it gives them something to shoot for. You have a place to go to see top quality soccer and you have all of the extra activities that the Union does for the community."
Legendary American defender Walter Bahr received the "Lifetime Achievement Award."
A longtime captain of the United States Men's National Team, Bahr assisted on the goal that sank England in the 1950 World Cup.
That 1-0 result is still considered one of the biggest upsets in sporting history.
He moved on to coaching and compiled an astounding 448-137-70 record during coaching stints with Penn State, Temple, and Frankford High School.
"This was a terrific night," Bahr said. "When I played, the top salary was something like 25 dollars a game. And I was only making 50 dollars a month teaching school. That was a nice supplement to my pay. They've always said, in another five years soccer is going to be on top, but it's never happened. Now I think it's on its way. With the television money backing (the sport), with the exposure that they're getting, games from Europe on television, games from South America, they're watching better examples play the game. Eventually, they'll become much better."
In a way, Bahr and Kozlowski provide an example for the young children that benefit from the foundation's work.
A brief glance at their resumes shows what can be achieved by providing for youth programs and continuing to build the modern day soccer community in Philadelphia.
"If you think of any organization, any person, anybody who has done something over time, history is a key component, isn't it?" Curry said. "It's understanding that history and how to build on it. When you bring in people like Bob or Walter, who are just so distinguished in their contributions to the soccer community, legends like Walter have done so many things that we dream of doing. Those types of people inspire us. Bringing them here was to do two things: provide that inspiration, and set an example and show people that here are two people who are trying to accomplish what we all want to accomplish. Most importantly, and I think Walter did it really, really well, was say, 'hey, there are a lot of similarities between my youth and the support I had as a young soccer player, and what you're doing here for the kids in Chester'. I think that was a powerful message for everyone."