Jumbos Give Back, Part 2: Athletic teams find meaning in community involvement

The Brandeis and Tufts men's soccer teams pose for a photo before their annual fundraising match in support of international health organization Grassroot Soccer on Sept. 21. via Facebook

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part story highlighting Tufts athletic teams’ contributions to their community. Part 1 was published Nov. 19 and Part 3 was published Nov. 29.

Several of Tufts’ sports teams organize specific community involvement efforts of their own, in addition to Athletics’ involvement with Team IMPACT and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.

Football team

The Tufts football team, for example, has volunteered with Cradles to Crayons and Somerville Homeless Coalition (SHC). Such efforts are headed by offensive line coach Scott Rynne. While Rynne is the point person for the football team’s community initiatives, he said that a lot of the efforts were driven by what the athletes were interested in.

According to senior offensive lineman Dan Dewing, the team got involved with sorting out children’s clothing, sneakers and books donations they received for Cradles to Crayons last year. This year, the team collected donations at the Wesleyan and Bates home games in September. Its efforts to collect clothes for children was successful, as the team filled four big baskets after just one day.

“We had guys there helping and working; it’s just an easy thing for us,” Dewing said. “We have such large numbers and our families are coming every week, so we say, ‘Hey, bring some used clothes that are stored away,’ so it’s just the little things that add up. And once you kind of look at the big picture … it’s really just the intent of being involved and continuously giving back.”

These efforts were then repeated for the winter, as the football team resumed its annual collaboration with SHC to collect winter coats during its Nov. 11 game against Middlebury. Rynne said that the team successfully collected about five bags worth of coats in this year’s coat drive.

Other Tufts teams involved with SHC include the men’s lacrosse team, which conducts an annual food and supplies drive.

Dewing explained the importance of the team’s involvement in local community service.

“Football’s so big, and we all believe in giving back and what it means to be part of a community,” Dewing said. “We can help a huge national organization, but it’s nice to do local stuff as well.”

Yet for all the success the programs have had, Rynne said raising awareness about the community’s needs was far more important.

“One of the goals of [the coat drive was that] we wanted to do a lot of good work in that,” Rynne said. “We also wanted to bring exposure to the need and let people know about our neighbors and our community and what’s going in and how we all can help. When our students are at lunch or trying to get people’s awareness up, I think that’s as effective and as important as the bags of stuff too.”

A third community service effort that the football team is involved in is volunteering at the nearby Brooks Elementary School. According to Rynne, the team’s partnership with Brooks Elementary School started last year and grew out of attempts to make a greater impact in neighboring communities. Rynne said that at the elementary school the team conducts reading sessions and helps students with homework, in addition to supporting them through the highs and lows of life.

“Brooks was something that we kind of saw as a need — how can we get our students to be able to work with the community, have an impact with kids?” Rynne said. “That’s something that through some great help from some people in the department here who have kids at that age — our women’s tennis coach [Kate Bayard] being one of them — just really helping us [make] some great connections so that we’re able to talk to the right people who are excited about having us over there.”

Senior quarterback and co-captain Ryan McDonald spoke to the joy he got from interacting with the students at Brooks Elementary School.

“It was a pretty great opportunity for myself and a couple of other players,” McDonald said. “We went there with intentions to read to them and help them find positive male role models, and we ended up playing tag at recess every Friday — one of the best experiences getting to enjoy the time with those guys and girls.”

Rynne said that many of the junior and senior members of the team who believed in the importance of the program helped it succeed early on. Rynne noted that sophomore running back Mike Pedrini even took time out before an exam last year to mentor at Brooks.

“I think we’ve incredibly talented people at Tufts and our student athletes are some impressive kids; you see some great growth,” Rynne said. “Our Tufts guys do so many things and they take their time out of the things they’re doing to give back to the community.”

Men’s soccer

Every year, the Tufts-Brandeis men’s soccer game is marked on both teams’ calendars as a contest for supremacy in suburban Boston. The top two Div. III teams — Tufts from the NESCAC and Brandeis from the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), respectively — compete once a year in a decisive game for postseason rank.

A year ago, the Judges beat the Jumbos in a last-gasp golden goal winner in double overtime in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Div. III tournament, sending Brandeis to its second Final Four in as many years. Since 2015, matches between the two sides have been decided by a single goal.

But the high-octane affair is also marked for a different reason altogether: It’s Tufts’ annual charity match, in support of international health organization Grassroot Soccer. According to its website, Grassroot Soccer “leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.”

The non-profit was imagined when founder Tommy Clark, while playing professionally for Highlanders F.C. in Zimbabwe, saw many of his teammates affected directly by AIDS. Incredulous with the situation’s seeming hopelessness, Clark sought to make a difference, and Grassroots Soccer was born. Today, the organization uses soccer as its foundation and curriculum to guide adolescents to a healthy lifestyle. Tufts’ partnership with Grassroot Soccer began in 2015, according to assistant coach and men’s soccer team alum Matt Zinner (LA ’18).

“We’re all really fortunate to play soccer at this level, especially at a place like this,” Zinner said. “It’s such a privilege, and helping out in any way we can is something every player here wants to do.”

The two teams encourage family, friends and classmates to contribute to Grassroot Soccer in the annual fundraiser. The Jumbos also team up with Positive Tracks, a nonprofit that aims to stimulate youth activism through sports, and matches every donation by someone under the age of 23 to the Grassroot Soccer fundraiser. According to Zinner, the teams rake in anywhere between $5,000 and $7,000 each year.

It’s a funny picture to imagine — rivals both on and off the field teaming up for a fundraiser, wearing identical Grassroot Soccer T-shirts, just before a fierce battle for Boston bragging rights. Tufts senior goalkeeper and co-captain Conner Mieth commented on the dichotomy.

“We’re both warming up in the same T-shirts before games but … we have to take a picture beforehand and they try to mix us in but it’s like ‘no, no, I don’t really want to touch him,’” Mieth said.

For Mieth, it also highlights Grassroot Soccer’s importance to the Tufts squad.

“[Soccer’s] not only a sport we’ve been playing for countless years … it’s a learning function,” Mieth said. “We learn from role models. Being able to provide that for underprivileged kids living in impoverished places in the world is a great way to help them escape. Every time we step on Bello [Field] it’s an escape … Once you step on the field, everything is in the back of your mind. Helping to provide that is invaluable for those kids.”

Unsure of what he wanted to do after graduating from Tufts but always having the desire to do more for the community than just an annual charity game, Zinner considered joining a Grassroot Soccer program in South America. Learning more and more about Grassroot Soccer’s mission led Zinner to initiate another fundraising event in the spring: a 3-on-3 coed tournament.

“While [the Brandeis fundraisers] have been successful, they haven’t been too time intensive or required too much. We would put out a Facebook post and hopefully the dollars came in,” Zinner said. “I wanted to do something a little more involved that would spread the word a little bit more.”

Zinner said that 49 people participated in the charity tournament in April, drawing students from both men’s and women’s soccer teams as well as friends of the Tufts soccer community. Like the Brandeis fundraiser, Zinner partnered with Positive Tracks to match donations, yielding over $1,000 in total. Zinner hopes that the 3-on-3 charity tournament continues into the future.

“Last year, I wanted to do something a little bit more than just having the game,” Zinner said. “It’s frankly pretty fun, so I think it can become an annual thing.”


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