Hapoel Soccer

HaPoel Soccer Rocks Baltimore

November 14, 2008

Stacy Karten
Contributing Editor

You can read the entire article by clicking this link.

A few hundred Baltimore area children from pre-school through sixth grade are enjoying a new fall recreation program called Hapoel Soccer.

After seven years of success conducting youth soccer programs in Silver Spring and Rockville, Matt Bernstein kicked off the program here on Sunday, Oct. 26. The league plays its five-week schedule at Pikesville Elementary School.

“We have ‘soccercise’ for the pre-schoolers to teach the basics of soccer. We also have two boys leagues and two girls leagues,” said Mr. Bernstein, who noted the children are divided into leagues for kindergarten through second grade and third through sixth grade.

Hapoel takes it name from the Israeli workers union and in Israel there are professional soccer teams that carry the name, Mr. Bernstein explained.

A former high school and college soccer player who still competes on a club level, Mr. Bernstein started Hapoel in Silver Spring. He was coaching kids in the summer who had nowhere to play in the fall.

“The foundation was the end of the summer and the kids couldn’t find a league,” he said.

He then, he added, asked his rabbi what to do. The advice: Start your own league.

Good advice: The Silver Spring league reached 300 children and was soon followed by one in Rockville.

“These leagues bring people together. It’s 100 percent about the kids. We’re player-centric,” said Mr. Bernstein, adding that players receive new uniforms every season. “Since I was in arms’ reach of Baltimore, I thought we could start a league there.”

Between word-of-mouth and three pre-season clinics the registrations started pouring in. Mr. Bernstein serves as commissioner of the league, all of the coaches are volunteers and the referees are professional.

Seven-year-old Reuven Neuman, a Torah Institute student, is enjoying the league.

“I like it. I wear uniform number nine. We get to run around,” said Reuven, who has many friends participating in the league.

His father, Gil Neuman, echoed his son’s sentiments. “He loves it,” he said. “It is run like a pro league. It’s a great feeling with the uniforms and the way the program is organized. They make everyone feel great about themselves and it’s a good workout.”

Eric Pines of Baltimore became friends with Mr. Bernstein when the two were yeshiva classmates about 10 years ago. Mr. Pines’ children, Asher Meir, 7, and Yosef Ehaim, 5, are participating in the league.

“They enjoy it. It’s good exercise for them, to run around after long hours at school,” Mr. Pines said.

The program’s highlight, Mr. Bernstein said, is a banquet at the end of the season; the Baltimore affair will be run by Accents Restaurant in Pikesville.

“This isn’t a hot dog and soda banquet,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It’s a full meal. The kids dress up and every child receives a different trophy. We also talk about each kid when their trophy is presented.”


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