Over 50 awesome All Stars, their parents, coaches and support crew recently joined the Neighbourhood Justice Centre team to celebrate 400 soccer get-togethers as the Collingwood All Stars team.

In the first of this year’s two ceremonies, cheers went up as teammates hauled in trophies for achievements including most improved, most helpful, best goalie, and for being the team’s quiet achievers.

The biggest cheers were reserved for joint winners of the juniors Best & Fairest award, local kids Allessandro and Yafeth, and Zac, who took out the honour in the seniors division. Their names will be enshrined on the Champions Board which hangs in the NJC’s foyer.

Coaches Awards were also given to young players who exemplified the characteristics of an All Star: an enthusiastic team player and all-round good sport. For coaches Wilson Poni and Fasile Aden, the Coaches Awards have particular resonance as both young men started out as junior All Stars ten or so years ago.  

The Collingwood All Stars Soccer team comprises girls and boys aged six to 12 years, and teenagers up to around 18 years.  All players have two things in common: they live in the City of Yarra, and they love soccer.

For the younger players, being an All Star is about making friends with kids from across the community, absorbing the life skills that come with playing a team sport, and having fun. 

It’s a different ball game for the older players when games and training gets more serious, and those keen to play at a more competitive level are connected with soccer leagues across Melbourne.  

While Collingwood All Star Soccer is about soccer, it’s underpinned by important goals: give young people a sense of inclusivity, safety, and adult role models.  These bedrock principles are why the program was set up in the first place.

In 2006, CASP’s head coach and manager, Leading Senior Constable Chris McGeachan and a colleague joined a group of young kids playing soccer on a dusty oval in Collingwood.

Their aim was to establish rapport with young kids who, along with their families, had fled war-torn homelands for a new life in Australia. A number of the children were traumatised by extreme violence, and mistrustful of any agents of authority; certainly the police were viewed through jaundiced eyes.

Even without the additional burden of trauma, moving to a wholly foreign culture is a journey that requires help to navigate, and the officers saw an opportunity to use a game played around the world to help the kids feel at home.

From a friendly kick-about that one afternoon, the officers realised they were onto something. Within weeks the numbers of kids swelled, and within months the Collingwood All Stars Soccer program formally launched.

In 2009, the officers invited NJC staff to volunteer their time to support the program, and Damian James, NJC’s Senior Registrar and longest-serving volunteer, says from the get-go, volunteering has been a privilege. 

“I’ve seen young boys grow into wonderful young men, and it’s been a fantastic way to connect with the community,” Damian says.

A key contribution of the program is to give older players the opportunity to learn leadership skills by coaching and supervising the young ones, which Damian says, brings its own rewards.

“Running after a bunch of energetic kids is a sure-fire way to develop pretty keen leadership’s skills, and you learn a lot about yourself when help others. I know this from experience; I feel like I get more out of volunteering than I put in.”

The All Stars program is gaining momentum.  Children 6 to 8 year now have their own division, a development that happened organically when CASP moved to Unity Park in Collingwood and kids living in a nearby high-rise estate stopped by for a kick-around.

Damian also says it’s a fantastic to see more parents getting involved.

“Many parents are new Australia and they want their kids to be happy, healthy, and surrounded by friends. Bringing kids from across Yarra to run around an oval is a surprisingly easy way to give children these necessities.”

The next challenge is to get more teenage girls involved says Damian.

“Young women are more than capable of giving the lads a run for their money, so we encourage teenage girls to join up.”   

CASP is now a solid fixture in the Yarra community, and kids from all walks of life find friendship and a healthy dose of competitive good fun on a level playing field.

CASP couldn’t happen without the support of Yarra City Council, Collingwood College, and Streat Café.

For more information contact the NCJ on 9948 8777