Friday, November 11th, 2011
Ensconced in a roomy booth at O’Toole’s Irish Pub, Bill Madaras says his son Nick would’ve felt right at home here.
The place used to be an Army recruiting center, for one thing. For another, the bar’s owners love soccer. In fact, one of the few items the owners found inside when they started renovations was an old soccer ball.
To top it off, co-owner Colin O’Toole once crossed paths with Nick Madaras on a local soccer field in 2004.
These are the slender connections that keep Nick’s memory vibrant and alive for his parents. Nick, who grew up in Wilton, died in Iraq on Sept. 3, 2006, while serving with the 4th Infantry Division. He was 19.
According to his dad, he was an avid soccer fan, player, referee and coach. It was during a visit back home in July 2006 that Nick first told his parents he wanted to collect soccer balls for the children in Iraq.
“He told us that kids there would use anything to play with,” Madaras says, his eyes welling up at this and every other mention of Nick. “They’d use tin cans. Nick asked if he could give some old soccer balls to them.”
He had other plans, too.
“When he got back from Iraq, he was going to take an Army program to go to college and get medical training and then go back in as a medic or a nurse,” Madaras adds. “My wife always used to tell him he should be a pediatrician, because he was so good with kids.”
Instead, people in New Haven and around the country are helping kids in Nick’s name.
Since 2007, U.S. troops have delivered thousands of soccer balls to children in Iraq and Afghanistan through Kick for Nick, a program headed up by Bill and Shalini Madaras. Each ball has Nick’s name on it.
In New Haven, O’Toole’s is having a Kick for Nick event from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 12. Admission is $15 or a soccer ball. The event also will benefit Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, a recently opened residence for homeless female veterans in Bridgeport.
“We’re trying to get people to bring a new soccer ball or a gently used soccer ball,” O’Toole explains. “We’ll do prize drawings and drink specials, Bill will speak. Whatever we can do to help.”
Madaras says Kick for Nick, http://www.kickfornick.org, continues to evolve, even as the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed. As more soccer balls made their way into those countries, soldiers reported back that they helped ease tensions between U.S. troops and local populations.
“Some have told us that passing out soccer balls was the best part of their deployment,” Madaras says. “Somebody just the other day said that people used to take potshots at them, so all they could do was toss soccer balls out of their vehicle. But after a couple of weeks, the shooting stopped.”
Madaras says he’s now getting requests to expand Kick for Nick into places such as Nicaragua, Africa, Ecuador and Yemen.
Here at home, more than five years after Nick’s death, Kick for Nick stands as a reminder of the dedication of U.S. troops stationed abroad.
“I think there are only four states we haven’t received soccer balls from,” Madaras says. “We received our first shipment from Montana a month ago. We even got them from Hawaii, from an Elks Club there. It won’t stop.”
Call Jim Shelton at 203-789-5664 or visit his blog at http://www.thejimbolist.com. To receive breaking news first, simply text the word nhnews to 22700. *Msg & Data Rates May Apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
O’Toole’s Irish Pub, 157 Orange St., New Haven, will have a benefit for Kick for Nick from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 12. Admission is a $15 donation or a new or gently used soccer ball. Call 203-506-5753.