Rye Neck Student-Athletes Save the World, One Soccer Ball at a Time

It all began when Zac Belok, a 16-year-old Spackenkill High School student, visited Argentina and gave a local child a soccer ball as a gift. The Argentinean was so overwhelmed with joy that Belok decided then and there to try his best to spread that same feeling to everyone.

That was the genesis of “Amigos de Fútbol”, an organization that aims to collect new and used soccer equipment in Hudson Valley schools to send to impoverished families in Argentina. David Mendoza-Conner and Ivan Martinez, stars on the Panthers’ Section championship soccer team, answered the bell at Rye Neck High School and are currently spearheading collections throughout the campus.

David Mendoza-Conner and Ivan Martinez

David Mendoza-Conner and Ivan Martinez

“It means a great deal to me to be able to help those who are less fortunate,” said Mendoza-Conner, a junior and Team Captain for the ADF effort at Rye Neck. “I know I definitely do not take things for granted, and being able to help children in South America who have nothing to play with inspires me to be a better person. When I think about those who can’t even play because they do not have equipment, I experience one of the saddest feelings I have ever encountered. To not be able to play a simple game such as soccer due to lack of equipment is mind-boggling.”

Mendoza-Conner and Martinez began their training in January with a workshop hosted by Belok in Poughkeepsie, where they learned how best to develop ideas for fundraising events. Since then they have set up meetings with the high school and middle school principals to designate collection sites, created and posted promotional flyers and added popular notices to Rye Neck’s daily announcements over the PA and TV screens. There are currently refrigerator-sized boxes in both the high and middle school where students and residents alike are urged to donate equipment.

The first shipment goes out in June, and there is the possibility that Martinez and Mendoza-Conner will go along for the ride to South America.

“Collecting equipment for those less fortunate is one thing, but actually delivering the equipment in person to the children and seeing their reaction is a whole different experience,” said Mendoza-Conner, whose father is Bolivian.

Martinez noted that soccer is the most popular sport in the world, one that brings people together and creates new bonds. Lending a hand to Argentina also hits very close to home for the sophomore of Paraguayan decent. Martinez has visited his home country, which borders Argentina, and has seen the widespread poverty and broken down homes.

“It’s sad seeing kids less fortunate than people like us,” said Martinez, who has been playing soccer since he was three. “Many of these children don’t even have parents and obviously cannot afford the gear. In South America, soccer is a very popular sport and the training has shown that we must not be selfish and try to help out others who are in need. When you’re doing the best you can it’s honestly an awesome feeling because you know that you’re helping kids out.”

Frank Gizzo, the co-head coach of the Panthers and the school counselor, was the first to receive word about Amigos de Fútbol and immediately knew of two ideal candidates.

“It’s a great fit for them because of their passion for soccer and familial roots to South America,” said Gizzo. “David and Ivan have shown strong commitment, energy and leadership with Amigos de Fútbol, and these characteristics translate to our soccer program because they are the same elements needed for a successful season.”

Although Martinez and Mendoza-Conner attend a very small school of roughly 400 students, they have high hopes of filling their boxes with equipment that will connect them to South American children and provide brighter days for the recipients.

“As it says in the morning announcements every day,” noted Mendoza-Conner, “‘Anyone can help out, so please donate and help save the world, one soccer ball at a time.’”

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