‘Stepping up and donating time’

Marlton Devils soccer team supports Sports Unity Program.

The Marlton Devils girl’s soccer team in white jerseys helps run drills with kids in the Sports Unity Program at Beeler Elementary school on Wednesday night. (Isabella DiAmore/The Sun)

Camaraderie and competitiveness are two key characteristics coaches like to instill in their athletes at a young age. Coaches for the Marlton Devils girls’ soccer team also emphasize giving back to the community.

“We just want to keep them on the right path to make the right decisions as they go,” said head coach Chris Renz. “There’s more than just sports or soccer to life:  Giving back to your community, helping others and being the leader, that’s what we try to instill in them.”  

In the past two years, the Devils have volunteered for the Marlton Recreation Council Sports Unity Program (SUP), designed for special needs children in Evesham as well as surrounding areas. The Devils’ coaches emphasized building a strong team culture by having squad members volunteer at Beeler Elementary School every Wednesday. They are known as buddies.

SUP is free and relies on sponsors and community donations. The program is entirely volunteer based; volunteer eligibility begins in the sixth grade.

“Our first year was in 2013, in the spring, and then from there, we went from one sport to now 10 throughout the year,” said SUP founder and commissioner Mark VonBerg. “We have well over 125 adult volunteers; we probably have about 600 or 700 buddies, and we average registration for about 400 or 500 kids.” 

SUP has support not just from the Devils but also the school board and Evesham police. 

“[Renz’s] group (the Devils) is probably one of the only ones that have been consistent,” VonBerg noted. “I understand kids have travel and practices all the time, but the fact that he (the coach) makes time to come out and bring his girls, even new girls, it means a lot to us.” 

The coaches were concerned that some players might be hesitant to volunteer because of COVID. But Renz and assistant coach Mike Recinto have emphasized the effort and aim to have at least 11 girls participate in SUP each week.   

The majority of the girls on the soccer team are between the ages of 13 and 14. Even though it’s not required that they volunteer, each of them has continually supported SUP. 

“The first night we mentioned it to the girls, they came out and they had a blast,” Renz said. “Every one of them was saying, ‘Can we come back?’”

The Devils practice on Tuesday and Thursday, and most of the girls are part of other sports leagues. But Renz is determined they keep supporting SUP every  Wednesday despite other commitments.

 “I have a couple of girls that had other sports tonight that got rained out and they could have gone home easily and just chilled and been teenagers,” Renz said of a recent game. “But they’re here, so that shows me a lot about them and that they also want to help out in this program.” 

“It’s a good life lesson for them,” Recinto noted. “It teaches them how to build relationships with others. Knowing that they’re doing something that’s benefitting somebody else is so important because most of the time they do things only for them.” 

For questions on SUP, contact sup@marltonreccouncil.org. For registration information, potential volunteers can visit www.marltonreccouncil.org.