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Uptown's Only Free Kids Soccer Camp Pushes to Renovate Local Park

 The Uptown Soccer Academy, founded in 2009, has helped thousands of kids with soccer training and healthy eating habits, founders said.
The Uptown Soccer Academy, founded in 2009, has helped thousands of kids with soccer training and healthy eating habits, founders said.
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Facebook/Uptown Soccer Academy

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Uptown's only free soccer camp is launching a new mission to make a local park better for the community.

The Uptown Soccer Academy is urging elected officials and community leaders to revamp the Dyckman Fields, where they’ve been playing each summer since 2009, said board member and parent, Iris Torres.

The program was founded by David Sykes and Cynthia Carrion, after the two noticed the lack of sports and nutritional programs for underserved kids in the community. It has served over a hundred children so far between the ages of 5 to 16 from Washington Heights and Inwood.

“We’re asking for portable goals, for the kids to use and play, and a box to keep the equipment in,” Torres said, adding that right now the coaches bring in their own balls, pads and cones for the kids. “We want real grass.”

Torres, whose 9-year-old son Nico is an avid soccer player, said these simple additions will benefit everyone using the fields throughout the year.

Uptown Soccer Academy uses the Dyckman Fields for their month-long summer program each year, and then switches in the fall to an after-school program with training in the fields as well as local school gyms, Torres said.

Parents not only bring in their kids to participate, but they also go on to become highly involved with the day-to-day functions of the program, Torres said.

“Everyone is involved, and all the families want to help,” Torres said. “If anyone sees a problem, we solve it. Everyone wants to help. It’s like a big family.”

Torres said volunteers not only help run the group's Facebook page, but also organize fundraisers with other parents, bring food for events and help with promoting the program to other local families.

Also, during the summer, the families all chipped in to rent a portable toilet for the camp-goers to use throughout the month, she said.

Sykes and Carrion said the all-volunteer system is mostly working — with the help of grants, fundraising and sponsorship support from organizations like the New York City Parks Department, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Westchester Youth Soccer League, Citizens Committee For New York City, Stoll, Glickman and Bellina LLP, ​Sulis Fine Art and The Bizzarro Agency.

But she said the system would be even better with a small investment in the public field — a small price to pay compared to other more expensive sports.

“In the rest of the world, soccer is 'the people's game' as the the barriers to entry are so low,” Sykes said, “Really, all you need is a ball.”

Torres said the free program has opened up many opportunities for players, including her son. After just a few years of playing, Torres said her son has been offered scholarships to play at other soccer academies.

“He loves it,” she said. “He’s learned so much.”

The new after-school soccer season begins Monday, Sept. 12 and the application for new players will be available online after Thursday's event, Carrion and Sykes said.