Professional athletes are often asked to wax poetic about their sport or the drive and determination that it took for them to achieve their particular greatness.

In that respect, professional soccer player Lionel Messi, who captains both the Barcelona and Argentina national soccer teams, has said of his accomplishments:

“You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.”

What Lionel doesn’t know is that on the literal other side of the world there exists a small group of soccer fans that make up a living embodiment of his sentiment in their fierce pursuit to make their sport available to every child in their community.

As president of the Graves County Soccer Association and Kentucky United Futbol Club, Andre Markoch believes the group’s goal is simple.

“Kids have to be proactive. They have to stay off the couch. They need to stay out of trouble. They need to have something to do,” he said.

The pursuit of that simple goal, though, is where the hard work and sacrifice comes into play.

The first challenge that the group under Andre’s leadership had to overcome was to outline a game strategy that would literally save a failing program, one they inherited with few players and even fewer dollars in the bank.

The 2018 seasons largely proved their success in that endeavor with more than 700 Graves County children registered to play in the outdoor recreational league, which spans two seasons and allows anyone between the ages of three and 18 to play.

The last part of the group’s mission is one that they are especially dogged in their pursuit of. In an effort to truly allow anyone the chance to play soccer, they developed what they consider a unique program.

“We acknowledge the fact that we are a low-income community and you have to acknowledge that we have a large diversity in our community and we have to serve that,” Andre said.

Unlike any other program in the area, the GCSA scholarship program uses the Kentucky Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as SNAP Benefits) as the qualifying element.

“If you prove you have SNAP Benefits, we don’t ask any other questions and we give you a discounted rate to play,” he said.

“We just want to make it accessible–that’s the number one thing.”

“We simply say ‘Prove to us that you have this hardship’ and you pay $25 and you’re in for the season.”

In addition to growing the number of kids who have the chance to play soccer, the group has recently grown the sheer number of opportunities to play, expanding their association to include the Kentucky United Futbol Club, a competitive indoor soccer league that operates in the winter months.

In its second season, Kentucky United is pulling indoor teams from all across the region with kids from Tennessee and Missouri taking on teams from Illinois and from neighboring counties Marshall and Calloway. Each week during the season, these teams travel to the Mayfield Fairgrounds to play in the Indoor Expo, a facility that long sat dilapidated until Andre and his teams got to work bringing it back to useful life, both for the United league, but also for many recreational teams that use the facility regularly.

Even in its infancy, the success of Kentucky United is astounding, with an original 50 teams quickly turning into 80 teams in its second season, one of which currently ranks #1 in Kentucky and #47 amongst teams across the nation.

Goals like these are certainly game-changing for the Association and for the community, but the group, which is made up entirely of volunteers, still has one major goal left before they can declare victory.

That victory, they say, lies on 48 acres outside of Mayfield where kids in shin guards and parents with lawn chairs gather for 14 Saturdays a year to run, kick, scream and yell. Named Hamilton Park, the outdoor soccer facility is currently leased by owners to the Association–a lease that expires this year.

“With the purchase of Hamilton Park, we will be able to offer more opportunity to help kids stay active, which studies show can help prevent weight problems and lead to better brain development,” said Phil Myers, GCSA Board Treasurer.

In addition to managing soccer teams year-round and keeping two facilities maintained, the Association’s board of directors is now adding fundraising to its list of tasks, with the arduous task of raising more than $100,000 in a year to purchase the facility.

Andre is sure that his current group of dedicated board members has what it takes to see the game through.

“With it being 100 percent volunteer work, and you’re running a business, it’s intense, especially when you’re coming up with more and more for kids to do and to benefit the community,” Andre said.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work.”

A tremendous amount of work that dedication that even soccer great Lionel Messi could admire.

If you’d like to learn more about the GCSA and Kentucky United Futbol Club, enroll your child to play, or donate toward their goal, please visit www.gcysa.net.

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