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By James Blevins
INVERNESS — When the idea of the alumni game first occurred to Ian Feldt, it started as merely a nice thought in his head and nothing more.
Maybe just a fun way to get together with old friends and play a game of soccer like they used to back in high school.
“To be quite honest,” Feldt said with a laugh, “it started off as a totally selfish idea in that I was just looking for a way to get my friends together that I’ve been playing with or coaching with and have a game.
“That materialized into an idea that this could be an opportunity to do some good,” Feldt continued.
An alumnus himself and current first-year coach of the Citrus High School girls soccer team, Feldt teamed up with Citrus activities director Laura Aguilera to put together an event that would satisfy Feldt’s “selfish” wish to play some soccer like old times while simultaneously raising some money for charity.
“It ended up being a win-win situation for everybody involved,” Feldt said.
Feldt managed to get approximately 45 past graduates and former Citrus soccer stars to come out for a game Friday night at Hurricane Stadium, with all proceeds going to charities. One former player even flew in from Maryland to participate.
The night was comprised of two games — a women’s game at 5:30 p.m. and a men’s game at 7:30 p.m. The male and female participants were divided into two teams of each gender, designated as Black and White teams, where they faced each other in their respective games.
Many parents of past stars got a chance at the event to watch their children play soccer again after so many years, making the event a very spirited way to spend some time with family this holiday season.
“So many parents were out there that I haven’t seen in some 15 years,” Feldt said. “They’re watching their son who might be 35 or 40 (years old) playing soccer again. It was a great trip down memory lane.”
The charities that benefitted from the event are the Citrus Abuse Shelter Association (CASA) in Citrus County along with a collection of money going to help the victims of the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We wanted to keep it local initially,” Feldt said. “And we threw around some (ideas for) charities in the area. CASA came up from a few different people and they’re doing a great thing for the community, so we thought we’d go ahead with them.
“Then Sandy Hook happened,” Feldt continued, “and we felt we should do something for them as well.”
Aguilera was an integral part of the soccer event’s organization and was on hand during the game, assisting in all the many charitable functions.
“Ultimately this game could not have happened without the support of the administration at Citrus High,” Feldt said. “I would like to thank specifically Laura Aguilera. Without her assistance, it never would have been possible for us to organize this event.”
Aguilera commented on how the event was helping Sandy Hook and its many surviving students and teachers.
“We are collecting snowflakes,” Aguilera said. “The national PTSA is doing (a paper) snowflake drive to decorate the hallways (of Sandy Hook) for when the students return. So we have opportunities for people attending (the game) to make snowflakes.”
Spectators were also encouraged to bring in canned goods as an alternative to the $2 entry fee, making it three good causes the event was collecting for.
The concession stand and entry gate were run by the Citrus girls soccer team players and worked as a fundraiser for their program, as well.
A few honorary alumni were utilized during the coin toss for the start of both the women’s and men’s games.
The first-ever Citrus girls soccer player (10 years before there even was a girls soccer team to play on) and mother to a current team member, Katherine Rinaldi, performed the coin toss in the women’s game, while the very first coach of the Citrus soccer program back in 1986, Ken Berger, held the honors in the men’s game.
David Ziegler, a former team captain back in the late 80s, flew in from Maryland to make the event. Former teammate Mike Rosignal, who is now a sheriff’s deputy in Lake County and from the same era as Ziegler, played in the men’s game on the Black team, which lost to the White team 2-1.
Another standout player on the Black team was Alex Posta, who still holds the men’s school record for most career goals at Citrus.
Amber Presnick, who graduated from Citrus in 2003 and went on to play soccer at the University of Florida, was out on the field again. Presnick is very much the poster child for Citrus girls’ soccer in her era — she came out and played on the Black team which triumphed over the White team 3-0 in their respective game.
“It’s a lot of fun and good to see all the girls. Good to see how out of shape we all are,” Presnick said with a chuckle. “I hope to do it every year. It’s a great idea.”
Erin and Shelby Wells, 2011 and 2010 Citrus High graduates, played in the game for the White team. Erin is currently attending Northwood University while her sister Shelby goes to Palm Beach Atlantic. Both girls play soccer for their respective colleges and often face each other on opposing sides of the field these days.
Former Citrus girls head coach Brady Bogart (a current teacher at Inverness Middle School and the Citrus head baseball coach) helped the women’s Black team from the side line at the event. Bogart started his career at Citrus back in the mid-90s and manned a girls’ squad as far as the “sweet 16” in the early part of the last decade.
It was really a coup for Feldt to get so many important members affiliated with the long, decorated history of Citrus soccer to come out and be a part of what he hopes to be an annual event.
“I was really trying to get coaches (involved) who had their feet in the soccer community,” Feldt said. “I was (hoping) all these guys (would) come out and volunteer. And they did. And from what I understand, they really had a great time.”
Aguilera was pleased with how the successful event turned out and supportive of its many charitable ambitions.
“Our community is just always supportive of all of our programs here at Citrus High School,” Aguilera said. “So every chance we get we like to try and find ways to give back. So this gives our alumni a chance to (return) and be together on the holidays and play but it also gives us a chance as a school to (collectively) give back.”