Kicking it around for the kids

In support of a great cause, the celebrity soccer game held Sunday at the USF Soccer Stadium provided the best gifts for everyone.

As part of the Second Annual Gramatica Family Foundation Superstar Soccer Weekend, the game brought various celebrities together for an exciting exhibition game. The two teams were fairly balanced as native hotshots Martin and Bill Gramatica faced off against each other.

NFL kickers were aplenty, as Miami’s Olindo Mare, Atlanta’s Jay Feely and Mike Hollis struggled to keep the ball low. Professional tennis star Xavier Malisse drew rowdy applause, as did USF football coach Jim Leavitt, who also participated.

National soccer players Carlos Valderrama, Diego Viera and Fernando Baleato were among the skilled naturals. Local media entertainers consisted of Victoria Lim from News Channel 8, Kelvin Jones of WQYK and ESPN’s Rob Stone, all of whom performed.

USF running back Clenton Crossley, USF soccer player Michelle Buskey and kicker Santiago Gramatica held it down for the Bulls.

The biggest crowd pleaser by far, however, was defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“(I’m in) great football shape — bad soccer shape,” he said from the sidelines.McFarland seemed to have a foot in every play, earning himself a few pointers from national soccer star Marcelo Balboa of the opposing team.

The casual competition was compelling, as unfamiliar players grew accustomed to the goal box. Frequent wide-open shots from NFL kickers went above and far beyond the target, undoubtedly within field goal range.

“(Soccer) is totally different,” Santiago Gramatica said. “People don’t understand how different it is. You can run all day, but soccer is just a lot of stop and go.”

Notable goals from skilled stars like Hector Jimenez of the U-17 National team and Viera marked the first points, and William Gramatica Sr. scored a goal for the second year in a row.

Despite the heated competition, it was apparent that winning was not the objective of the charity event.

“I think it’s great to come back to support the city that they live in, with the younger brother being (at USF) coming in and being a part of this school,” Mare said. “They get to luckily have an event here locally, where they all have a name.”

For the Gramatica Family Foundation, the gifts are starting to spread.

“It’s such an amazing thing visiting Shriners Hospital,” Santiago said. “Just seeing how, you know, they’re less fortunate but (the children) always have these big smiles on their faces when you go visit them. Especially what Shriners does for the kids themselves, you always want to try to help people like that. Or youth soccer and schools around the area, we try to help Tampa because that’s what is close to us.”

All proceeds from the event will go to the USF men’s and women’s soccer teams, along with benefits to the Foundation itself.

By the end of the second half, the rules had vanished, the scoreboard was did not matter and players’ cleats were missing.

“It’s nice to get out there and play and raise money,” said Hollis, who gave away his shoes. “It’s a great time.”