One of Wilton’s proudest and most poignant Memorial Day traditions is the Annual Nick Madaras Memorial Day Challenge, a round robin soccer tournament played between local teams, including one made up of fallen solider Private First Class (PFC) Nick Madaras’ friends and former teammates.

Now in the event’s 13th year, organizers are introducing two new elements:

As they do every Memorial Day, friends and teammates of the former Wilton High School soccer star will line up on Monday, May 27th at 11 a.m. at Kristine Lilly Field, to face off against an opposing team to raise money for the Kick For Nick Foundation. But this year, for the first time standing across the center line will be coaches and participants from the new Kick For Nick CT Soccer Academy in Bridgeport. It’s part of the organization’s recent efforts to fulfill its mission close at home as well as overseas.

Not only will the players on the field be different, but organizers are also introducing a $20,000 grand prize raffle–with a twist.

The Kick For Nick Program

In the summer of 2006, PFC Nick Madaras was home on leave, when he asked his family to send him a few soccer balls on his return to Iraq. He wanted to distribute them to the local children who had so little they would use anything they could find as a ball, which for the most part was old tin cans. Sadly, Nick was killed by an IED on Sept. 3, 2006, before he ever got the chance to do this.

Wiltonian Ken Dartley was inspired to launch a program to fulfill Nick’s wish in his honor, collecting soccer balls to send to Iraqi children. Starting with a net set up in front of the James P. Whipple American Legion Post 86 to collect donated balls, the Kick for Nick Foundation has now grown to such an extent that over 50,000 soccer balls have been distributed to date.

Initially the balls were distributed only by U.S. troops in Iraq, but over the years in addition to soldiers, the distribution network has grown to include U.S. military contractors, volunteers, individuals, schools, and charitable organizations. Balls have been given to underprivileged children in more than 50 countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Bhutan, Guatemala, Columbia, and more.

This past fall the reach of the Kick for Nick Foundation expanded yet again to include children a little closer to home–Bridgeport.

Kick for Nick Grows in Bridgeport

“Last year, after the Memorial Day Tournament, I caught up with Dan Pelletier, soccer coach and general manager at Bridgeport United Football Club (BUFC), who filled me in on his recent volunteer efforts in Bridgeport,” explains Nick’s father, Bill Madaras. “Dan had worked with the City of Bridgeport to give him access to a field so he could teach soccer to local children, at no charge. It was a bit of a sandlot type of thing and very informal, but the response was incredible. So much so, that the children quickly outnumbered the volunteer coaches.”

Bill continues, “I was intrigued and wanted to explore how Kick for Nick might be able to bolster Dan’s efforts to continue to break down the pay-to-play wall. Conversations continued and last fall, thanks to a generous grant from Dog Tag Brewing, Kick for Nick was able to help formalize the endeavor into a 10-week program, complete with coaches who could commit to working with the children for the entire fall season,” he says.

This spring marks the second season for Kick for Nick CT Soccerwhich seeks to support youth development through the “beautiful game [of soccer], developing skills on and off the field in a competitive, fun, and nurturing environment open to children of all backgrounds.” The program is sponsored by the Bridgeport Field of Dreams Foundation and DIG USA, and there is no cost to participate.

“What we’ve been doing outside of our country–bringing soccer to underprivileged children–we’re now doing here at home,” says Bill. “Nick always wanted more people to experience the gift of having a soccer ball. I am happy we are positioned to help those abroad and at home have that kind of experience.”

Memorial Day Challenge Takes on New Features

According to Nick’s mom, Shalini Madaras, bringing Kick for Nick CT Soccer to Wilton this coming Memorial Day, “is a most special and a wonderful way to unite this inspired Bridgeport soccer program to Nick’s home in Wilton, where he did all his volunteer coaching, refereeing and playing.”

This year’s Memorial Day Challenge will be special for several reasons. In addition to this being the first time a team sponsored by and coached by the Kick For Nick CT Soccer Academy will participate, it will also be the first year that the event will have significant sponsorship. Curran Volkswagen and Weeks Automotive Group are putting up $20,000 as a raffle grand prize–$10,000 will be donated in the winner’s name to Kick For Nick CT Soccer, and another $10,000 will be awarded directly to the winner. Attendees can enter the raffle by donating a new soccer ball. All soccer balls collected will go towards the Kick for Nick global program for underprivileged children.

The 13th Annual Kick for Nick Memorial Day Challenge will take place on Monday, May 27th at Kristine Lilly Field. The event starts at 11:00 a.m. and all proceeds from the event go directly to the Kick for Nick Foundation. In keeping with past tradition, the Wilton Soccer Association will play in front of their friends and families during halftime.