A new football club in Vermont reaches out to New Americans
Vermont's newest sports league has two missions: go green, and connect with some of the state's newest residents.
Keil Corey is the co-founder of Vermont Green Football Club. And just to make it clear, he's talking football as in what they call footy overseas.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Keil Corey. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Keil Corey: We are talking soccer, but the global community calls it football. So we're talking footy. And that's what we're here to do in Vermont, is play some play footy — play some of the beautiful game.
Mitch Wertlieb: And how did this all get started with the Vermont Green Football Club? How long have you been around?
This is our first-ever season. So we kicked off this month. And the team itself has been a work, a labor of love for about two years. We started with the idea around the start of the pandemic.
My good friend, Matt Wolff, who is a co-founder, reached out to me with the idea to start a football club in Vermont, focused on environmental justice. And the global game is such a big, powerful platform. And it wasn't being utilized to advance action on the huge issues we're facing, whether that's climate change, or systemic racism. So he contacted me with just this idea. And we've been working on it ever since.
How do you make your league, as you call it, environmentally responsible?
We're doing it in several different ways. So the first is really getting our own house in order —deal with our own carbon footprint, with our own waste footprint. And then another big piece of our operations is all the merchandise we sell, all of our apparel. Our kits. And kit is just your jersey, your shorts, what the players wear on the field.
And we did a lot of work in research, finding the right vendors who are doing some very impressive and kind of cutting-edge things on making clothing that is more environmentally sustainable, and also socially responsible.
We committed to become a 1% for the planet member, which means that we are committed to donating 1% of our net sales to organizations working on behalf of the environment.
And we are prioritizing organizations who are doing environmental justice work.
The other thing that seems very interesting about this league is that it seems to be fostering a sense of community, and giving a real sense of place for New Americans, people who are new to Vermont perhaps and people from other countries. What can you tell us about that effort?
Soccer is such a wonderful and powerful way to connect with people who you might not share anything else with, except for your love with the game. So we started conversations with Juba Stars FC, which is a local soccer organization. They have a men's league team, they also do a youth club programming. And it's all free. And it's volunteer led. And they've been doing this work for about 15,16 years. And it came from a need in the Somali Bantu community specifically, to help the immigrant youth and former refugees to have a place to grow, to be safe, to be supported. And to advance whether they want to, you know, be a professional soccer player or just go on to play college soccer, or play at the highest level they possibly can.
And we also have local players on our roster who have played in those teams on the Juba Star team, who come from former refugee and immigrant communities and are now part of our club. So there's a lot of interconnection there.
"Soccer is such a wonderful and powerful way to connect with people who you might not share anything else with, except for your love with the game. "Keil Corey, Vermont Green Football Club
Soccer, football, whatever you want to call it, it's such a global game. It's the kind of thing where if you're nervous about meeting new people, you can step right in and say, 'Hey, we all love football.'
That piece is so powerful. I've had this experience now in Brazil, in Central America, where I didn't know the language, but I brought a soccer ball with me, and you're immediate friends, you don't have to know each other. You don't have to speak the same language, you speak the game of soccer, you put the ball down. And before you know, you're playing a game with people, you're having fun.
And it's just you connect on that level in a way that doesn't happen really anywhere else that I've ever found in my life. So we love that aspect. And it's definitely showing up in how we're building this club in this state.
This seems like a good time then to talk about this new pilot program with King Street Center. What is that all about? King Street Center is a nonprofit that works with young people in Burlington, and how is Vermont Green Football Club getting involved with them?
We wanted to figure out how to make our games more inclusive and inviting for New Americans, for historically underrepresented and marginalized communities in Vermont. And King Street's been doing that, and so they're helping us learn how to build those relationships.
If you're looking from outside of the state, it's easy to think that Vermont isn't very diverse culturally. And that is true to some extent, but it's really not true. When you actually are on the ground meeting all the people that call Vermont home, you realize there's a lot more to that story here.
And so we wanted the players to have that experience, we wanted them to have some fun building relationships with these youth, and so that they could get on, you know, a first-name basis, they could see them in the stands, we're gonna have them up at practices, you know, cheering them on coming on the field, high-fives, you know, just really getting to know each other and building those relationships.
And the hope is our players are going to have such a well-rounded experience and get a really deep sense of what it's like to live in Burlington and live in Vermont, that they're going to want to come back.
How many teams do you have in the Vermont Green Football Club right now, about how much participation is there and how long is the season?
Well, in terms of our division itself, there's seven other teams. The rostered players in our team are over 30 players at the moment. We're going to have our next home game — actually one I'm very excited for is this coming weekend. We play Seacoast, who's out in New Hampshire, this Saturday June 4 at 6 p.m., at Virtue Field, and the doors open at 5 p.m. We really encourage people to get there in advance to like, just take in the atmosphere, have some food, have some drinks, you know, meet people, have some fun together and then get really excited for the game.
And we have six more games after that throughout the season. We also have been really successful so far in our first three games, we came out, won 4-0 against Boston. We actually went away to Seacoast and lost 1-0 on a really disgustingly hot day. It was like 95 degrees, cramping was an issue. It was tough. And we just had our first home game against Black Rock and beat them 4-1.
So the players are really good. Shout out to the coaching staff, the recruiting has been amazing. And the guys are really coming together in a way that is blowing my expectations out of the water. And then we're going into this New Hampshire game with a loss away. They're coming to our home field. We're going to have such an environment this coming Saturday, and I hope people come out to support us and help us get the win against our New Hampshire rivals.