“Right now the garage is our warehouse,” said Colleen Williams, Terry’s 26-year-old daughter and one of the greatest women’s soccer players ever to wear a University of Dayton uniform.
“I mean it’s hysterical. My mom jokes. ‘One day I hope I’ll be able to get back in that garage.’ But right now it’s filled floor to ceiling with soccer gear. There must be 500 outfits in there.
“There are 25 huge cardboard boxes filled with hundreds of shirts, cleats, jerseys, t-shirts, shin guards, balls, everything a player needs.”
Colleen is the driving force behind SistaSoccer, an ambitious program which takes used soccer gear donated by college, high school and club teams, as well as individuals and, with the help of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, redistributes it to kids in need, while also providing them with instruction in the sport and life lessons that will serve them far beyond the soccer pitch.
She showed that same embrace-your-neighbor spirit when she was at UD, where she became a three-time All American, two-time Academic All American, set several Flyers’ scoring records and became just the 20th person in NCAA women’s soccer history to register at least 50 goals and 50 assists in her career.
In the process, UD won 68 games and three Atlantic 10 titles in her four years as a Flyer. She was the A-10 Rookie of the Year as a freshman, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore and a senior and the A-10’s Most Outstanding Player as a junior.
Off the field she was just as good. She launched a charitable program here called Willy’s Wish.
An assistant coach came up with the name — linking it to the popular forward and midfielder’s nickname — and that helped make it a success.
Children in the Trenton (N.J.) program receive gear and training session from Colleen Williams and SistaSoccer. CONTRIBUTED
Donations were collected at UD sports events and from other students on campus – Colleen asked people for just $1 — and money she got helped everybody from a single-parent family at Christmas and another family with a diabetic child to the late Krystal Byrne, a UD student who had hoped to play soccer for the Flyers until she was diagnosed with cancer as a freshman.
Byrne – who died in January of 2016 at age 30 – battled eight years to get her degree from Dayton and was supported along the way by the women’s soccer team, former coach Mike Tucker and especially Colleen.
After her own graduation, Williams — taken in the fourth round of the NWSL college draft — played professionally for the Washington Spirit and with the United States U-23 women’s national team.
But ongoing knee injuries — two ACL tears, two MCL tears, three meniscus tears — ended all that. Forced to retire from soccer in March of 2015, she decided to go to graduate school.
An offer from the Hawaii-Pacific University — to be a graduate assistant coach in exchange for her schooling costs — was too good to pass up. Especially when she added in the sun and the beach.
“Look I’m a beach baby and after four years of undergrad in the cold I needed some warmth,” she said with a laugh. “But that’s not to say I didn’t absolutely love Dayton. I would go there 10 times out of 10, every time.
“I’m a Jersey girl, but the people in the Midwest are hands down the nicest people I ever interacted with in my life.
“I think I would marry 10 of my guy friends from Dayton. They’re all just nice boys who are happy and successful and they love their moms.
“… But I needed some beach time.”
Hawaiian kids receive cleats for Christmas from Heidi Sabatura of SistaSoccer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
She found much more than that in Hawaii.
For her thesis she said she was required to do a project that would launch a non-profit organization upon her graduation.
As she was mulling over the possibilities during a walk on campus, she passed the table of another professor. He was looking to sign students up to go to Thailand in the summer and teach English.
She melded the two ideas, collected gear from Hawaiian college and club teams and decided to redistribute it to 150 children in Thailand.
While the kids there knew and loved soccer, they didn’t have the basics to play.
“Their parents worked in the sugar cane fields,” she said. “They didn’t have any money, so they couldn’t afford cleats. A bunch of the kids had cuts all over their feet because they play barefoot in fields with thorns. They love the sport so much that they played anyway.
“So when we gave them shoes, their faces just lit up. Oh my God, it was the best feeling ever. It was better than anything I had done. It was amazing.”
It was during that trip that she realized her project wasn’t just fodder for a master’s thesis. It could be her life’s work.
“Seeing what we could do for those kids just tied the knot for me,” she said. “We could do a lot of good. We could use the soccer equipment to build confidence and camaraderie and provide positive influences in the children’s lives.”
She ran the idea by her parents, and several of her former club and UD teammates — including Alysha Mallon, who has become the SistaSoccer business development director — and the charity was launched.
Earlier this month, it distributed Christmas presents — cleats, jerseys, journals for recording their involvements — to children in four of its five target cities. Next month Colleen will return to Fort Lauderdale too and soon — with the help of some UD contacts, including Tucker — she hopes to introduce SistaSoccer to Dayton.
Origins of the program
The SistaSoccer name has a couple of origins, she said.
“Keeping with the Hawaiian roots, when a local calls you ‘Sista,’ it’s a sign of approval,” she said. “But going way back, some of my partners in this I’ve known since we were 10 years old. We were all united by soccer. Some of us played on the same club team. Later some of us played together at UD.
“Soccer bonded us. We developed a sisterhood — something you can count on later in life — and now we want to use the sport to bring that to other kids.”
She said she first learned some of those lessons from her late club coach Eddie Leigh.
“He was a northeast Philly guy who just loved soccer,” she said. “We didn’t have the best of anything — we had flat balls in a black trash bag, maybe cleats that were taped together, stuff like that — but we had a love for the game and for each other. And we’re trying to pass that on now.”
To get the attention of kids, they use the uniforms, cleats and soccer balls — all of which are being redistributed.
“Kids here outgrow their gear constantly,” she said. “College players get a surplus of gear they don’t need. So it’s just a matter of giving something that really doesn’t matter that much to you.
“It’s pairs of cleats you tossed in the back of your closet. It’s extra soccer balls just sitting in your garage. And you just give a little of that to someone who doesn’t have it. It’s the old idea of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.”
Thai boy receives his pair of cleats from Colleen Williams of SistaSoccer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
At present Colleen gets the items sent to her or she and her friends go collect them. The cities where she launched programs are the places where her former teammates live and have offered to help.
At first the idea was just “girls helping girls” she said.
But she said when she saw little Thai boys in need line up, too, she couldn’t turn them down. So now she’s trying to help as many kids as she can.
“I really want to get a program going in Dayton in a couple of months,” she said. ”Coach Tucker keeps calling me with ideas and Dayton is a place that’s been very special to me.
“Right now we need any help we can get, especially financially so we can deliver the gear to the cities and get the coaches there.”
While SistaSoccer has 501 c(3) status and has gotten some donations, Colleen is getting help from her friends, her parents — both school teachers who recently retired — and she is bankrolling much of the effort with the money she made from her brief pro career and from giving private soccer instruction.
“One day I’d love for this to be a nationally known nonprofit that has its own warehouse and programs in all 50 states,” she said. “I hope we impact a lot of lives and really make things better for a lot of people.”
And that includes Terry Williams.
As SistaSoccer grows, maybe she and her husband will finally be able to pull their cars back in their garage.
To donate or find out more about the program, visit SistaSoccer.com
To send check:
23 Pancoast Road
Waretown, N.J., 08758