Lindsay Tarpley-led Community Kicks soccer program for kids takes pitch online

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

A global pandemic wasn’t about to keep a program down whose mission is to teach kids about the beautiful game, nutrition and life lessons.  

So, two-time U.S. Olympic gold medal winner and Kalamazoo-area resident Lindsay Tarpley called an audible and retooled her program.

Community Kicks, which started in 2018, will be available online through a four-week curriculum of videos on the organization’s site: As in the past, the program is free of charge. 

Former U.S. women's national team member Lindsay Tarpley, middle, is joined by Community Kick volunteers at the inaugural event in 2018.

Three years ago, Tarpley, 36, through The United Dairy Industry of Michigan and AFC Ann Arbor, kicked off the program by teaching kids the four basics in soccer skills, nutrition and life skills with clinics throughout the state, including Ypsilanti and Detroit. More than 200 kids turned out in the first year while 500 showed up last year.

“Being a mother, especially right now, I think it's even more important to offer the support and encouragement,” said Tarpley, who was a member of the U.S. women’s national Olympic gold medal-winning teams in 2004 and ’08. She has two children, Jacob, 7½, and Alexandra, 5. “So, obviously when life throws you a curveball, you figure out a different way to attack it and that's what we've done.  

“I'm really excited about the program this year. I think there's even more information these kids can learn and grow from, certainly in a challenging time.” 

Tarpley’s enlisted a cadre of soccer talent — many with Michigan ties — to dispense their expertise, including 2019 National Women Soccer League Rookie of the Year and Hudsonville native Bethany Balcer, as well as New England Revolution defender and Kalamazoo native Brandon Bye.

Former AFC Ann Arbor players Stanley Joseph Okumu, who plays for IF Elfsborg in the Swedish first division; and Yazeed Matthews, who is with the Detroit City FC of the third-tier National Independent Soccer Association; also take part as community coaches. 

In a twist of fate, Community Kicks going online this year enabled people like Lexy Warner to take part. Warner, who played at Michigan State and was invited to the U.S. under-23 camp, moved to Virginia, where she is a packaging engineer for Smithfield Foods.  

“It's super exciting that I can give back, but not only just give back my hometown area and places where I grew up but to other areas as well,” said Warner, who is a Ypsilanti native and graduated from Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard High. 

Azaad Liadi, a forward with third-division FC Tuscon of USL League One, took part in the inaugural Community Kicks, working with kids who had never played the game before. The Sterling Heights native starred at Henry Ford High before going on to play at Saginaw Valley State and then Georgia Southern. 

Community Kicks' Lindsay Tarpley greets a participant during the inaugural event in 2018.

“It was an awesome experience. I just like giving back to the kids,” said Liadi, who played during the summer with AFC Ann Arbor as well as the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL League Two. “Obviously, you don't experience things like that every day. 

“They loved it. A lot of them said they never played, but they said they really enjoyed it. Many said they'd like to play again.” 

Liadi returns as a community coach, demonstrating a number of drills online. The interactive curriculum is synched up so each week builds on the other. 

“That's how the rhythm is structured this year,” Tarpley said. “So even though it's different, it's still going to be a lot of learning, and hopefully the kids are learning something new every time.” 

Nutrition, the second pillar in Community Kick’s three-part undertaking, is spearheaded through a Meet Up and Eat Up collaboration with Food Gatherers in Washtenaw County and Gleaners in Metro Detroit.  

At least 30,000 Community Kicks-branded lunch bags with instructional information printed on them — including a link to the website — will be handed out in Ypsilanti, Detroit, Muskegon and Lansing. 

“Nutrition to me is extremely important for being a professional athlete,” Tarpley said, “Now, being a mom, it's something that I'm always focused on and realizing that it's important to fuel your body the right way.” 

Tarpley’s soccer career ended after she suffered an anterior cruciate injury to her right knee during a U.S. tune-up match for the 2011 World Cup against Japan in Columbus, Ohio. The winger made 125 appearances with the national side, tallying 32 goals. 

Former U.S. national team women's star Lindsay Tarpley demonstrates a dribbling exercise during Week 1 as part of Community Kicks' four-week online curriculum.

That overlapped with a remarkable college career at powerhouse North Carolina, helping lead the unbeaten Tar Heels to a national title as a sophomore in 2003. She led the nation with 23 goals and 27 assists. 

Tarpley finished her college career with 59 goals and 59 assists. North Carolina retired her No. 25 in 2006. 

At Portage Central, she was the state’s Miss Soccer and Gatorade Player of the Year in 2002. She also had a goal and assisted on the other two in Central’s 3-2 victory over Madison Heights Bishop Foley in the 2000 Division 2 championship. 

After living out of state for several years, she and her husband of 12 years, B.J. Snow, have returned to the Kalamazoo area.  

Snow, also a Portage Central grad, helped backstop Indiana to consecutive national titles in 1998 and 1999. The defender went into coaching, guiding the U.S. women's under-23 team 2017-19.  

In January, he left as director of Talent Identification with the women’s national side. He works with Western Diversified Plastics in Mattawan.

“I love it,” Tarpley said. “Michigan is such a special spot for me and my husband, and we’re thrilled to be back home and in a wonderful community, a wonderful state and we're hoping to make an impact and help share some of these wonderful experiences that both of us have seen over the years and now bring it back to our hometown.” 

In terms of those life lessons Community Kicks tries to instill in youngsters, Tarpley finds herself being constantly being reminded of one being involved in this endeavor. 

"I thoroughly enjoy giving back, she said.

Twitter: @larryo1961