This story was originally published in the August 11th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.
|Last year's event at 1 a.m, the seventh consecutive hour of soccer. Photo courtesy of Peter Diana.|
This year, organizers say they are gearing up for an event they hope will be even larger, crazier and more fun.
The event, which will run from 6 p.m. on Aug. 19 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 20 at the Hunnewell Fields on Route 16, will likely feature celebrity appearances by players from the New England Revolution and Boston Breakers. All proceeds will go to support Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit organization that “uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV,” according to its website.
“Every participant makes a donation to Grassroot Soccer and then plays for as long as they want. Some people play for an hour or two, some play for much longer,” said Peter Diana, one of the event’s founders.
Last year, the inaugural event was hampered by the absence of Labor Day vacationers, and Hurricane Earl, which delayed the proceedings. That event still drew roughly 250 attendees, so the organizers are hoping for well over 300 this year. Their fundraising target is $15,000.
Grassroot Soccer encourages participants to play barefoot, in solidarity with African children who are unable to afford shoes. The 24-hour idea was Peter Diana’s creation, which he jokingly described as, “the stupidest thing about all of this.”
“It’s fun to be playing with friends, but [playing barefoot] is not something that I would usually do. I think it’s more the symbolism and the novelty of it,” said Owen Diana, a rising junior at WHS, Peter’s son, and member of the WHS varsity soccer team.
“I think playing barefoot allows for a game more based on skill and flair rather than one based on fitness and physicality, which is great. The game is very laid back, and there are a lot of different ages playing,” said Lee Wickham, also a rising junior at WHS and a soccer player.
Owen Diana and Wickham estimated that they played for 12 or 13 hours nonconsecutively last year. Michael Youniss, a high school friend of theirs, set the record when he played last year for 17 consecutive hours, from about 7 p.m. to noon the next day.
For a $25 minimum entrance fee, all participants receive either a green or yellow “24 Hours of Barefoot Soccer” T-shirt indicating their presence on one of two teams. They then play for as long as they wish. There are many pickup-style games of various sizes, speeds and talent levels on four different fields for the entire 24-hour duration.
Three main families – the Dianas, Wickhams and Speers – run the event, and the organizers expect an influx of additional volunteers this year. This will allow most of the staff to get at least some sleep amid the 24-hour mayhem, which was a near-impossibility last year.
The event is also sponsored by a number of local businesses this year; they will provide everything from food to coffee to tents for the participants.
“For me, the most rewarding thing about this event is just seeing it happen. It started with the sort of goofy idea, and this was just something Owen and I thought of and talked about, and then it happened, and it was amazing,” said Peter Diana.
“It think it’s really nice to see how the passion for soccer than Owen and I have can be transmitted into something good for the world that makes a difference,” said Wickham.
The second annual “24 Hours of Barefoot Soccer” event will take place at the Hunnewell Fields starting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 19. You can register online at www.24hoursofsoccer.com. For more information about Grassroot Soccer, please visit www.grassrootsoccer.org