The Hephzibah Children's Association has helped children in need in the Oak Park area for over a century. The roles reversed on Saturday when Bryce Richards, an 11-year-old boy from Oak Park, organized a soccer tournament on their behalf.
The Oak Park Open Cup was held at Ridgeland Common on July 28 from 10 a.m-2 p.m. The participators created their own teams, splitting young boys and girls into teams of four in three different age groups—U8, U10, and U12.
No entry fee was required. Instead, there was a recommended giving price of $25, and a box at the event for extra donations. The tournament raised $750 for Hephzibah via cash donations at the event and also online donations directly to Hephzibah. About 200 people (including players,)attended the Oak Park Open Cup.
"I wanted to put the soccer tournament together to play more soccer," Bryce said. "But I also wanted to fundraise for the Hephzibah home so they could get their own soccer equipment."
Bryce is familiar with Hephzibah because he participates in their after school programs. He's also friends with many children who have benefited from the organization.
Bryce originally came up with the idea after last soccer season ended, and asked his father, Rowan Richards, to help with the idea. Richards—who contributes to charity work regularly with his wife, Stacia Richards —was ecstatic that his son had come up with such a thoughtful idea on his own.
"The minute he asked I said we're going to get it done. I didn't know how we'd do it, but I told him we'd get it done," Rowan said.
The tournament was originally was made up of Bryce's friends from around the area, but as word spread, the numbers and age groups increased. For the first year, having over 70 participants and 18 teams was more than the Richards family could ever have imagined.
A gorgeous day fueled a competitive and fun event in Oak Park. Parents of children participating came out, along with volunteer coaches, and organic foot traffic from the Farmer's Market directly across the street contributed to the atmosphere.
"Kevin's Minions" were the winners of the U8 bracket, "Atomic Pickles" won the U10, and the "Goal Diggers" took home gold for the U12. All teams were guaranteed three 40-minute games during the event, which Bryce hopes to make an annual tradition.
Bryce's team, The Future, placed second in the U12 bracket. The real goal, however, was a festive day of soccer with his friends—all for the benefit of other children in need.
Rowan and Stacia Richards are constantly looking to give back to the communities around them. It's a focus for the family, as important as any other responsibility in their lives.
"Our kids are always aware of the things we're doing. We try to make a point of finding organizations to support," Rowan said. "But to have your kid make a decision solely based on the benefit for other people, you live for those moments."
Though his parents preach giving back to others, Bryce wasn't willing to give them all the credit.
"Maybe they rubbed off, a little," Bryce said.
Rowan and Stacia used their personal social media pages to promote the event, and a makeshift website was created last minute to include the donation link. Stacia's connections on Facebook with various groups of families the Richards interact with throughout the year were vital to the event's marketing plan. 100 percent of the proceeds went to Hephzibah.
Bryce's parents were both former athletes themselves. Bryce gets his love for soccer from Stacia, who played at Notre Dame. That's where she met Rowan, who played baseball for the Fighting Irish. Rowan also went on to play minor league baseball for the Texas Rangers.
Bryce's brother, Devan, also participated in the event. He took home first place with "Kevin's Minion's" in the U8 division. Devan and Bryce's sister, Rhea, assisted with the tournament by taking photos throughout the day.
Wire in Berwyn and Scratch Kitchen's District Kitchen & Tap in Oak Park were both sponsors of the event. Like the participators, they weren't asked for donations, but instead promoted it on their social media pages with a video Bryce and his dad put together.
"There were a couple of hiccups in the process with trying to make it all work," Rowan said. "Wire and Scratch Kitchen were really good to us and helped us out."
The event will likely have more structure in the future. Ideally, Rowan said, there will be more sponsors, whether it's strictly through promotions or catering and donations.
Despite only having the help of a few parents, a last-ditch effort at a website, and a box for checks and cash on hand at the event, the first year of the Oak Park Open Cup can be chalked up as an overwhelming success. With Bryce's idea driving a group of volunteers, they were able to make it happen.
If the event drew the numbers it did this year with not much help or tools at hand for the Richards, the future of the tournament looks bright. For Hephzibah, that's great news.
And for Bryce, who's already making a positive mark on his community, the future looks even brighter.
"When a kid comes to you with something thoughtful like that, there's nothing better as a parent," Rowan said.
For those who missed out on the action, donation information for Hephzibah can be found at https://www.hephzibahhome.org/donate/.
Answer Book 2018
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