About Nick Madaras
When he was home on leave in July 2006, he rounded up as many balls as he could to bring back to the children of Iraq. Nick figured if a war that had raged on for more than thirty years in the Ivory Coast could be stopped because of soccer, why couldn’t one be ended in Iraq?
On the 4th of July 1990 Nick and our family arrived in the U.S. from overseas after having lived abroad for several years and everything was foreign, especially the sports. Nick had no idea what soccer even was! Besides his school enrollment, settling in meant getting him involved in all the activities children here regularly participate in and soccer was one of them. He did not like it but was given little choice. The coach he had for his first season of youth recreational soccer also turned out to be his coach in his last season, Guy Ferro. Guy appealed to Nick’s sense of humor to keep him interested in soccer to the extent that Nick eventually teamed with Guy as his assistant coach. In the beginning, Saturday mornings consisted of us pushing Nick out the door for a soccer game and then yelling from the side lines to tell him which direction he should be running with his team.
Over the years, Nick grew to love the sport over all others he played like basketball, lacrosse and baseball. He started refereeing as soon as he was old enough and began volunteer assistant coaching in middle school. In 9th grade he started coaching his own team and continued doing so right up until the last month before he left for his military training. At the same time, he was playing for Wilton High in the fall, indoor in the winter and Premier League in the spring.
As a volunteer coach for the younger players, he always seemed to bring out the best in them and win or lose Nick’s team came off the field happy. He would point out the players’ strengths and weaknesses, advise them how to improve their game, and encourage their sportsmanship. A mother once commented that she had to force her son to play one last season, but after spending that season on Nick’s team, he went on to play on the high school varsity team.
So, it was not strange to hear Nick say when he came home on leave how talented the children in Iraq were at soccer, using anything they could find to use as a ball (which was for the most part old tin cans). Their skills impressed him so much and he told the children that they could show his high school buddies a thing or two, and just imagine what they could do with a real soccer ball! Because of his love for the sport, it was an instinctive desire to share this love with the children in his area. He asked us to send him a few balls so he could distribute them to the children in Baqubah. Sadly he never got the chance to do this.
Shortly after September 3rd 2006, we got a call from a gentleman, Ken Dartley of Wilton, who read about Nick’s passion for the sport and his desire to share this love with the Iraqi children. He asked if it would be alright with us to start a program of collecting soccer balls in Nick’s honor to fulfill Nick’s wish to share his passion. That was the beginning of the program “Kick for Nick.” So far more than 10,000 balls have been donated and sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. The program has expanded to New Mexico where Nick’s aunt lives and it continues to grow.
Soldiers who have distributed the balls to the children have told us this act of kindness and generosity has given way to an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie. They have been very enthusiastic about the distribution and some have even expressed the wish to start a collection in their location when they return home. Nick showed us many photos of the people and children in Iraq. He was amazed at how they would be smiling despite their difficult situation. The ball distribution, a gesture of friendship regardless of political differences, brings a feeling of hope and unification…leaving no room for cultural or religious barriers. The simple act of sharing, in Nick’s case a sport he loved so much, inspires hope for all to play on the same field, together and live in harmony.
This is the heart and soul behind the “Kick for Nick” program, inspired by a young man who loved every aspect of the game of soccer, especially the team spirit it engendered. He was very proud of his team name “Band of Brothers” and took that relationship very seriously.
So, if you see a ball collection basket around your town, you know it is Nick’s ammunition to create a friendly world through his love of soccer. Every ball handed out generates a smile and every smile generates a memory of good will and friendship, which one day will allow us to play on one field.
By Bill & Shalini Madaras, Nick's parents