By Lee Noles
As a teenager in England, Jonny Sinclair and his friends loved playing soccer anywhere. A vacant field or parking lot, it didn’t matter. All they needed was a soccer ball and two goals and they were playing.
Anything beyond some fun pickup games, though, was a different story.
Sinclair’s high school had a team, but unlike in the United States, prep programs only practiced once a week and games were more like scrimmages. If Sinclair and his friends wanted to get better, they knew the professional leagues were the only way to go. Those were by invitation only.
“There were a lot of hidden gems that didn’t get a chance,” Sinclair said of the talent that missed out.
Sinclair’s math teacher, Andrew Mollitt, noticed the discrepancy and along with another staff member at the school created a soccer team that was free for local youth. They called themselves the Richmond Mavericks. The opportunity helped Sinclair get to the cusp of playing in one of the highest leagues in England and eventually move into the coaching ranks.
When Sinclair moved to the United States in 2005, he saw another group of talented players missing out. This time the cost proved daunting, as some families couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars needed each year just to play in leagues. Extra coaching, game uniforms and practice attire, can add hundreds more in expenses.
It was then Sinclair thought about his former teacher and created a nonprofit that provides free soccer through the generosity of individuals and businesses.
“It always stuck with me how much he gave to us and as I got older, I wanted to give back,” Sinclair said about Mollitt. “And I was looking for an avenue to do that here and I started the Matthews Mavericks.”
The Mavericks launched in fall 2019 with children at any skill level playing pickup games on Fridays. There are no drills. No zealous coaching or overbearing parents. Just children playing for fun.
“I will be there with all the equipment and everyone can play,” Sinclair said. “That is what I loved about soccer growing up. Less structure and playing with your friends … It’s all about enjoying the sport.”
The ability of several children had Sinclair deciding to participate this fall in one of the most competitive leagues in the area. The Carolina Champions League features teams from the Carolinas that come from as far as Asheville and Spartanburg in addition to the Charlotte area.
Although they are joining a top-flight division, Sinclair is keeping the Mavericks free.
“It’s all about the process. The process is to enjoy soccer. Appreciate soccer. Love soccer,” said Sinclair, who will field boys and girls teams between the ages of 8 to 10 years old. “It’s not about always paying to play for a good program. It’s more about being on a good team because you will work hard to be good.”
Sinclair is surrounding himself with like-minded coaches. Nicolas Sosa played professional soccer and was the conference coach of the year this past fall at Providence High. Ian Dargavel has directed soccer camps throughout the Southeast and coached from the recreational to Region 3 levels.
“You are going to be surrounded by people who have a passion for the game,” said Sinclair, who has coached collegiately at the Division 1 level.
The support from businesses and individuals is another important factor. Dr. Greg Abrams has played in adult leagues with Sinclair for several years and helped kick-start the program by donating money for soccer balls and jerseys. Businesses and families have also joined to support the competitive team.
“The support is personally rewarding for me,” Sinclair said. “The parents who I have known for years and have stayed by me means a lot. It is now up to me to repay them by helping the kids enjoy the game.”
The children’s enjoyment is more important to Sinclair than wins or titles. The belief derived from his father, John Sinclair, who despite being an avid athlete himself, never pressured his son in soccer. Sinclair takes the same attitude and honors his father, who passed away in October from cancer, by giving out an award each Friday which he calls the Cappy award. The hat goes to a player who isn’t the most talented but exemplifies the joy for the game.
John Sinclair’s nickname was Cappy after he fell asleep with his hat on in his first day in the military.
“Looking back at the time I didn’t realize until I got older, but he was my biggest idol,” Sinclair said.
Want to know more?
Visit www.matthewsmavericks.com to learn more about the Matthews Mavericks