Egnatios' assist gives Detroit youth opportunities on soccer field

On Thursday night, Skillman Foundation Program Director for neighborhoods, Ed Egnatios, was honored with the 2013 DTE Energy MVP award. Egnatios was honored for his work with the nonprofit Think Detroit PAL. He’s been a longtime board member, and he helped spearhead the effort to bring citywide soccer leagues to the city of Detroit. For years, Egnatios coached girls travel soccer teams for Think Detroit PAL, after Think Detroit merged with the Police Athletic League. Egnatios continues to serve on the nonprofit’s board.  He accepted his award Thursday night at a dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club.

This week, I sat with Ed to get his take on the importance of Think Detroit PAL and the significance of sports for youth development.

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Ed Egnatios receives the 2013 DTE Energy MVP award from Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey and WDIV's Rhonda Walker. 

Q: How did you get involved with Think Detroit PAL?

A: I was part of a small group of people who wanted to bring soccer to the city of Detroit. I felt like it was great for young people and great for kids to participate in. Too many times, soccer develops around the suburbs, but not in the city. And really soccer is a game of the world; it’s part of a global experience. Joan Duggan (mother of potential mayoral candidate Mike Duggan) was interested in that also. She found an ex-professional player who was interested in working with kids. His name is Tim Richey. She was interested in running a program in a couple of the public housing projects, and then I heard about her. We sat down and I said, “I’d like to help.” Then we founded the Detroit Youth Soccer League. It was just a little idea. We pooled our ideas. At the same time, Think Detroit was just starting. Dan Varner and Mike Tenbusch founded this organization that would do high-quality sports for young people but also build character and leadership. A year or two later, we said, this could be bigger. Let’s merge with Think Detroit. They were excited, because they hadn’t touched soccer. They took over our staff person Tim Ritchey. This little soccer league went out of existence, and it became a part of Think Detroit. And I became the board member from this small group to join the Think Detroit board. That was near the end of the ‘90s.

Q: Were you volunteering coaching then?

A: When it merged with Think Detroit PAL, Tim began to develop a house league. I volunteered around 2001 to do a travel team for girls. I had four daughters, and I’d coached all my daughters. They’d all graduated from high school and I was going to go into withdrawal. I still wanted to play, still wanted to coach. So I’d say I’d do a travel team.

Q: And how long did you do that?

A: Until last year. I’m now coaching at Detroit Cristo Rey, and I just couldn’t do two teams. I’m the varsity coach there for the girls. I can’t do this year-round; I just don’t have the stamina anymore.

Q: Why is Think Detroit PAL such an important partner of ours?

A: They’re a very important partner. Frankly, it’s because during the difficulties of the city, there has been a continuous dropping and withdrawing of providing substantial sports activities for kids. There is no citywide sports program, not with the Parks and Recreation. That was gone a long time ago. No other organization has done this. DPS was also offering less and less sports. Think Detroit PAL is the only citywide sports program.  We believe so much that sports is one of the vehicles for youth development, one of the vehicles that helps kids to grow their talent and get committed. Plus, it’s healthy, it’s fun. And they’re very high-quality, they have a very strong commitment to evaluation.  We really felt our neighborhoods needed to have neighborhood-based sports.

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Ed Egnatios has coached youth soccer teams in the league and currently coaches at Detroit Cristo Rey. Kaitlynn Rogers (left), 12, Chelsea McBride, 19, Chaynise  Simmons, 19, and their mom, Fredericka Hardaway joined Egnatios during the awards ceremony Thursday night.

Q: You’ve coached in various leagues, including the suburbs. What special thing did you learn from coaching in Think Detroit Pal’s leagues?

A: Number one, I think I got more out of it than I think the kids did. I hope they got something out of it, too, and I think they did. Two, there’s no “I” in “team.” It’s really about a team. If that message comes across, there’s lots of data that says particularly for girls in the city, there aren’t mass opportunities for girls to experience that. That team experience is really essential. It’s really good for the parents, it’s amazing for the staff and volunteers, it’s just really a great lesson. Also, I saw that we literally could have 10 travel teams if we had the volunteers to coach – there are just not enough coaches. If coaches are good at the travel level, they sell their services out in the suburbs. We just can’t afford that. The last thing I learned with city kids is, you’re not just a coach. Maybe in the suburbs you can be just a coach and just deal with soccer. In the city, transportation is so not helpful, that you’re constantly transporting, you’re building a much closer relationship. Once the trust happens – and it takes a while – then they’d ask me questions that had nothing to do with soccer. And it’s really kind of scary, because you end up being a confidant, a mentor, something they can really chat with. That was really heavy, but very cool.

Congratulations to Ed on his award!

-- Krista Jahnke is communications officer at The Skillman Foundation. Contact her at kjahnke@skillman.org.

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