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Lil Angels Kick It Up In Camden

By April Saul, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photographer, June 28, 2003

Soccer came to Camden this spring, in knee-length jerseys and muddy cleats.

For nearly four months of Saturday mornings — most of them soggy — the Camden High School practice field as well as a community field at the Camden campus of Rutgers University — were taken over by the Camden Youth Soccer Club, the brainchild of Gloucester City resident Ed Bonnette and the result of six months of community effort.

On March 28 — opening day — more than 400 children ages 4 to 16 showed up, sifted through piles of pre-worn soccer shoes, and met their teammates. A Camden police officer and coach, Eddie Chapman, insisted his team, "Lil Angels," run past the review stand. The rest simply paraded past applauding parents.

As with any new phenomenon, the difficulties — and the diehards — were soon revealed. There were parents who assumed they could drop their children off as if the league were day care, or who couldn't be counted on to bring their children on time, if at all. Players from several different teams were cobbled together to form new ones to play games.

But there was also a coach named Christopher Pascall who suffered a stroke during the season and came back to chase his 6-year-old charges across the field. A hundred parents cleared the fields of trash, and 40 others underwent three to 10 hours of training to learn to coach. Soccer moms and grandmoms pushed paint machines on the dampest of days to lay down white lines on the wet grass, with umbrellas in their hands and toddlers clamped to their knees.

Bonnette tried to make sure everyone felt welcome by printing Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese words on the T-shirts worn by the coaches. And true to plan, by today's season finale — delayed nearly a month because of the weather — there were children of all hues running, cheering and stumbling across the Camden fields. Getting their shoes tied. Getting their feelings hurt. And getting game.

Christian GarciaChristian Garcia, 6, makes sure his shoes are tied before his soccer game begins. For nearly four months of mostly rainy Saturdays, more than 400 children participated in the Camden Youth Soccer Club, the brainchild of a Gloucester City resident.

Ameer AliBefore the start of games by the Camden Youth Soccer Club, Ameer Ali, 5, runs across the field with a corner flag. Players ranged in age from 4 to 16.

Rebecca PradoIt seems that soccer is the last thing that Rebecca Prado, 4, wants to do on a Saturday. She sheds some tears as her mother, Anna Prado, gets her ready.

Christopher PascallChristopher Pascall, left, gathers his players after a game. Pascall suffered a stroke during the season but returned to coach. The club's season finale was scheduled for Saturday.

CYSC Players in actionGame time at the Camden Youth Soccer Club involves playing on the practice field at Camden High School.

C.J. PascallC.J. Pascall, 6, son of coach Christopher Pascall, lets the rain wet his face during a soccer game.