Playing for the Community

Story by Remy Sisk  |  Photography by Clay Cook

It’s hard to miss if you’re downtown on a Louisville City Football Club game day. Swaths of purple and gold permeate the blocks surrounding Louisville Slugger Field, and devoted fans of all ages decked out in scarves, headwear, body paint and, of course, jerseys crowd the streets in emphatic illustrations of support of Louisville’s professional soccer team. And though the excitement of the game and the skill of the players are without a doubt spectacular aspects of Louisville City FC, these players – and company as a whole – sincerely care about and engage with the local community on an unprecedented level. All players are required contractually to make community appearances; however, every single one of them regularly exceeds the minimum requirement due to an authentic passion for Louisville and its myriad nonprofits. The team has worked in the past with Engelhard Elementary, the Boys & Girls Club and several other worthy organizations and demonstrated a true commitment to giving back. In fact, in 2016, the team totaled more than 2,000 hours in the community.

Four of the most recognizable players from the team – Paolo DelPiccolo, Ilija Ilic, Tarek Morad and Greg Ranjitsingh – recently stopped by The Voice-Tribune for an unforgettable photo shoot. But while they were here, we caught up with them about what role they believe they’ve played in the bettering of our community and why, despite the fact that they have come from all over the world, Louisville already holds such a special place in their hearts.

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Paolo DelPiccolo (No. 36)

Position: Midfielder

Hometown: Denver, Colorado

What are you proud to bring to the team?: I think I bring good leadership, defensive work and passing to the team. I like to think of myself as the guy that carries the piano and I let the forwards play the keys.

Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: I think people are catching on to how much fun the games are to attend. Soccer fans around the world are by far the most passionate sports fans. The Louisville fans are no different, and they make the games so exciting and fun.

What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I love all the restaurants here.

What’s your favorite local restaurant?: Hammerheads for sure.

Favorite bourbon?: I really haven’t tried too many – probably Woodford Reserve. But I’m not hardcore Kentucky yet. I take my bourbon with Coke or some water.

Favorite thing to do off the field?: I like to skateboard a lot. But with so much downtime I have picked up quite a few hobbies. Coaching, painting, video games, chasing girls around (haha) – really anything.

Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: I think when I look at how lucky I am to live this lifestyle where I play soccer for a living, it’s important to recognize that it is only possible because of the support from the community, so it is important to me to give back to them for supporting me – it’s also important to give back to people who aren’t as lucky as I am.

What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: The Jimmy V Foundation is my favorite. A fan of ours got me involved last year with a bocce tournament, and the work they do is awesome.

What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Last year, our team won the Jimmy V bocce tournament, and that was really fun.

How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I think first and foremost, we give the community something to cheer for. At the home games, it’s really incredible to see everyone coming out and having such a great time together supporting us, but I also think we do a good job of getting out into the community outside of soccer and bonding with our fans, charities and really anyone who we can positively impact.

Ilija Ilic (No. 14)

Position: Striker

Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia

What are you proud to bring to the team?: Aside from soccer skills, I like to think I am a good teammate and very positive person.

Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: I’ve never seen a team that has better outreach to the community than Louisville City FC. The connection between players and fans is real, and people can sense that. I think that is why we have more and more people in the stands every year.

What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I really like the city because it reminds me of my hometown. Just like Louisville, Belgrade has a beautiful river – actually two rivers – and several bridges that connect old and new parts of the city. I used to go to the parks near the river, and that is something that I really enjoy doing in Louisville.

What’s your favorite restaurant?: My favorite restaurant is Sapporo. I really like sushi, and you can see me there at least once a week.

What’s your favorite bourbon?: I know this will make Kentuckians mad, but I’d rather have a Falls City beer.

Favorite thing to do off the field?: I really enjoy visiting local parks. Louisville has some of the nicest parks I’ve seen, and I’m trying to explore them all.

Why is it important to stay involved in the community?: The idea of getting the team involved as much as possible in the community was essential for our team culture. We are trying to bring the joy to the community not only on the field, but also throughout different appearances and events. Seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when they meet players outside of Slugger Field and then getting to talk to them or kick a ball with them is just remarkable.

What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: We auctioned our game-worn jerseys last season to benefit Blessings in a Backpack at Engelhard Elementary. No kids in our community should go hungry, and I hope that we helped.

What’s your favorite memory of your community appearances?: One of the unforgettable memories was when we visited a local orphanage. We met the kids that had some of the saddest stories and they went through more than anyone could imagine, yet they were able to laugh and play with us. That feeling of bringing joy to them was priceless.

How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I would like to think that we are helping to get more kids involved in playing sports. When I was a kid, sports were the only fun we had. I feel nowadays kids have so many different options and not enough of them play sports. This is my third season with the team, and I’m happy to see more and more kids at our games every year. That’s something that this team is striving for, and we should all be proud of it.

Tarek Morad (No. 6)

Position: Defender

Hometown: Chino Hills, California

What are you proud to bring to the team?: I’m an intelligent defender that plays with passion and hard work.

Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: The product that we’ve put out on the field since I’ve been here is really exciting and entertaining as is the overall atmosphere that our supporter groups help provide during games.

What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: I’ve enjoyed trying all different kinds of great restaurants the city has to offer.

What’s your favorite local restaurant?: El Taco Luchador.

Favorite thing to do off the field?: If I’m being honest, sleeping and eating are my favorite things to do off the field. But I also enjoy just listening to music and watching some good movies and TV shows.

Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: It’s important to give back to the community that supports you, so getting involved in events around the city plays a big part in the team’s culture and success.

What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: I’m currently working with a campaign called Playing for Pride, which raises money for the Human Rights Campaign to bring awareness for LGBTQ rights and equality through soccer.

What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Visiting Norton Children’s Hospital last year and meeting so many amazing kids fighting cancer and being able to put a smile on their faces was really an incredibly fulfilling experience.

How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: I believe the team has made a very positive impact on the community by bringing a pro sports team for the city to rally behind. The team provides a new and unique experience that is different from the other more popular sports in this region.

Greg Ranjitsingh (No. 1)

Position: Goalkeeper

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

What are you proud to bring to the team?: Mario Kart and decent banter.

Why do you think Louisville City has gained such a devoted following?: Louisville has had a great following for soccer even before the team arrived back in 2015. Ever since the inaugural season, the club has developed a great culture on the pitch and within the community that people really enjoy and respect.

What’s your favorite thing about Louisville itself?: Game days. The support this city gives us is incredible – no greater feeling

What’s your favorite local restaurant?: El Barrio. I encourage everyone in the city to go there at least twice a week.

Favorite bourbon?: This is my third year in Louisville and I still haven’t tried bourbon.

Favorite thing to do off the field?: Eat at local restaurants.

Why is it important to you to stay involved in the community?: It’s always great knowing that you can be involved in something that benefits the community, especially being part of Louisville City. A lot of people in the community look up to us, and I feel it’s our duty to give back to this city for the support they have given us.

What nonprofits have you most enjoyed working with?: The Boys & Girls Club.

What’s your favorite memory from your community appearances?: Working with the Boys & Girls Club – having them at the training grounds one afternoon and seeing all of them enjoy the beautiful game at a clinic.

How do you think Louisville City as a team has been able to affect change in the community?: With such a big following and passionate fans, people have bought into the culture that Louisville City has created and it’s our duty to spread that sense of enjoyment not only on game day at Slugger Field but also within the community whenever we can.

Everything Hurts

Coach Rick Pitino speaks to his team during a timeout. Photo by Adam Creech

Ultimately, Louisville basketball’s day of reckoning wound up not being as bad as most Cardinal fans feared. It wound up being worse.

When the NCAA’s full ruling on the now 20-month-old ordeal was released last week, no one was surprised to see that the program had been placed on four-years probation. The additional scholarship hits were equally expected, the five-game suspension of Rick Pitino was acceptable, and the lack of an additional postseason ban for future years was an anticipated relief.

Then, hidden in the middle of the ruling like a depressing “Game of Thrones” plot twist, came the line:

“A vacation of basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible from December 2010 [to] July 2014. The university will provide a written report containing the games impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 45 days of the public decision release.”

Unless Louisville wins its appeal or is successful in a lengthy court battle with the NCAA a la Penn State, the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship will be the first vacated title in the history of men’s college basketball. It’s the punishment every UofL fan has spent the better part of the past two years telling themselves could never be brought to the table.

The reason for the confidence was precedence. The money exchanged in this case was deemed to be no more than $10,000. For comparison’s sake, Syracuse was punished for benefits to a single player that exceeded $10,000, and there have been multiple NCAA cases over the past decade that have involved six figures worth of impermissible benefits. UofL, understandably, was quick to point all this out in its defense. The NCAA almost seemed offended.

The NCAA’s decision is littered with wording that conveys the infractions committee’s belief that the “repugnant” nature of the acts committed makes it pointless to compare this case to previous cases. Reading through the decision, it’s not difficult to see their point. The stories of confused 16 and 17-year-old kids who trusted an adult to take care of them away from home and were instead handed condoms and led to rooms with naked women make your stomach churn.

Even with that being the case, the NCAA is churning through uncharted waters here. As Jay Bilas said on radio and television last week, “I haven’t read the NCAA’s bylaws of ‘repugnant.’” There is no precedent for dealing with these types of impermissible benefits, for trying to regulate morality, only precedent for impermissible benefits that can be ascribed a specific monetary value.

Given that, it’s understandable why Louisville would choose the defense route it did. The issue here is that sex was involved, and sex, regardless of what the issue at-hand is, changes everything. The members of the NCAA handling this case quite obviously saw the acts as highly immoral, and therefore viewed the UofL defense as especially tone deaf. Still, the NCAA giving itself free reign to get away from its own bylaws and hand down punishment based on its own collective moral compass in special instances seems like a dangerous precedent.

It’s a precedent that, at least for the time being, has resulted in the ultimate embarrassment for Louisville basketball.

Before any of this was even a twinkle in any of our most disgusting crevices, I was firmly on the “vacating is the stupidest penalty ever – those games still happened, yes, even the Calipari ones” bandwagon. The majority of the outside world that has reacted to last week’s ruling has seemed to agree.

Louisville’s 2013 NCAA tournament games happened. We saw them. We heard or felt the Georgia Dome explode on Montrezl Harrell’s go-ahead dunk, and we’ve seen the “One Shining Moment” montage more than any of us would care to admit. Removing UofL’s name from a few record books and forcing the workers at the KFC Yum! Center to haul down a piece of cloth won’t change any of that.

Still, the 2012-13 Louisville Cardinals becoming the first college basketball team in history to vacate a national championship would be a big deal for all those who wear the red and black simply because everyone who follows sports would make it impossible for it to be anything else. Being the first to be cast in such a dubious light would be a stain and an annoyance that would be impossible to shake.

Aside from the emotions and feelings of those directly involved with winning the title who had nothing to do with any wrongdoing here (an aspect of all this that’s being too casually swept aside by everyone), that stain and that annoyance are why the banner matters. It wouldn’t take away the memories and I don’t think it would have a major impact on the future, but there’s no question that it would still hurt.

For the time being, everything hurts. VT

The Monk and the Fox

Malik Monk. Photo by Victoria Graff.

In all the hype surrounding the upcoming NBA draft, there was a single moment of quiet clarity the other night, so evanescent that you might never have heard it happen.

Following a workout with the Philadelphia 76ers – one in which Malik Monk was emphasizing that, in addition to all his other qualities, he could be a pro point guard – the interviewer asked him what had made him such a great shooter during his year at Kentucky.

With barely a pause, just a familiar smile and a flash of his eyes, he said, simply: “De’Aaron Fox!”

Not Coach Calipari, nor the support of Big Blue Nation, nor God.

Monk’s not humble. He’s confident in his many basketball skills. So what I found remarkable was not his quick answer, nor his honesty.

It was this.

We’re used to groups of freshmen coming in here every year, their amazing exploits announcing them way ahead of their actual arrival, like brass bands in a parade that you can hear from blocks away.

We get excited about them individually, rarely focusing on how they’ll perform in their brand new group setting.

I’m not forgetting the various five-star events they’re involved in. But those are passing weekends, a week at the most. And the coaching is relatively passive. There’s not much even Mike Krzyzewski or, this year, John Calipari can do to blend a group together other than figure out who’s your best point, who’s your best shooter, who’s your best defender, and try to make that work.

Pairing a good point guard with a good shooter is one thing. Blending their emotions and personalities is an entirely different thing – nearly impossible over such a short period.

So when the freshmen show up for real in Lexington each summer, you kind of hope there aren’t any conflicts of personality, style or ambition. Monk fancied himself a five-star point guard last summer. Isaiah Briscoe fancied himself a five-star point guard the summer before.

Nobody on either one’s high school team ever challenged his predominance with the ball. But there was no Tyler Ulis at Briscoe’s school; nor a De’Aaron Fox to take the ball from Monk and say, “I got this, you play over there.”

You hope these freshmen come in with that camaraderie, or that an upperclassman or two says, “This is how we do it here.” Of course, as Kentucky upperclassmen become as common as dial telephones, the freshmen increasingly have to make their way by themselves. Together. Or alone.

There were brief moments last year when you sensed this would be an unusually cohesive group. I remember a situation, well before the season began, when they sat around and tried to remember who reached out to whom with that “you’d better be at Kentucky” text message.

They laughed. Fox said he thought it was Wenyen Gabriel who started the whole thing, and Bam Adebayo said no, he’d heard from Sacha Killeya-Jones first and then he’d called Wenyen. Fox laughed, yeah, yeah, that’s the way it was, and bumped Killeya-Jones’ fist. And then they all started giggling like 17-year-olds do.

To me, it was a good sign that this would be one of the better freshman groups. And it was.

Maybe like Quade Green, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Nick Richards baking BBN cookies for Kevin Knox at the McDonald’s All-American event in Chicago last March. Knox insisted that he didn’t eat the blue cookies, but eventually he did drink the Blue Kool-Aid. That will be a great story to tell if this upcoming Kentucky team does well. And it will be a story with an endless social media life if Kentucky wins the whole thing.

Similarly, Monk calling out his old teammate during one of those countless “how’d it go?” interview sessions suggests a closeness and a mutual respect that can build over the six or seven months they’re together. Or it’s an immediate combustion after just one “how ya doin?” at the first practice.

You think they’re all in this for just one thing, counting NBA dollars every time a shot goes in, scanning the stands for pro scouts, going onto social media to see what the world said about them following a win at Florida.

Clearly they’re not. The mutual respect leads to wanting to help the group excel.

As Cal doesn’t need to say anymore, this is his youngest team ever. Watch to see if these guards click as seamlessly as Monk and Fox did a year ago. That will tell the story. VT

T. Williams Skills and Development Training

Cora Moore and Tony Williams with two trainees. Photo Courtesy of Jason Jenkins.

After Tony Williams made history at Doss High School posting a 79-24 record in three seasons and taking the Dragons to back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 during that span, the former coach is still giving back to his hometown city and to the game he loves.

This summer, he’s been doing that through the inaugural Tony Williams Skills and Development Training.

“I love the game so much and I love working with people and trying to help them develop their skills and get better,” he says. “Using all the things I have learned in my playing career and coaching career – for me it is a way to give back.”

Williams, who is a former Division I player, spent 10 years overseas as a professional, only to return home to lead Doss to three consecutive winning seasons. Through this one-on-one training experience, he guarantees, “I will give you a set of tools that you can and should continue to use throughout your basketball-playing career. You will see a gradual improvement throughout our training sessions, but the true success lies in your ability to soak up the knowledge and make it a part of your daily routine.”

The training will last for six weeks and is open to everyone. Although it’s an addition for kids who play AAU basketball or summer league for their high school, it is also for men, women and children who want a good workout. So whether it’s getting in shape or becoming the Most Valuable Player in the church league, Williams says he seeks to meet every need.

During his time at Doss, he says there were key fundamental skills lacking in this current generation of high school athletes. Therefore, he has put together various packages that improve one’s skill with layups, ball handling and form shooting coupled with a shooter’s package, defense and footwork, and conditioning.

“They speak to the individual needs that I felt this generation lacks most,” he attests. “I found through coaching this past year, a lot of kids aren’t being taught properly how to execute a right-hand layup jumping off the left foot, a right-hand layup jumping off the right foot, a left-hand layup jumping off the right foot or a left-hand layup jumping off the left foot.”

Although kids admire the ball-handling skills of a Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Stephen Curry of the current NBA Champions, Golden State Warriors, in many ways, they’ve failed to master ball-handling skills in their own repertoire, perhaps living vicariously through NBA superstars without having the fundamentals.

It’s an area Williams focuses on because “kids wait until they get into the game to do moves that they hadn’t practiced. Your handle can basically show your weaknesses if you have not worked on them. So I have a ball-handling package that is repetition and it works those twitch fibers and it works muscle memory,” he adds.

By recycling training exercises from his professional days, Williams takes a holistic approach to cover all the needs of his trainees. He hopes this will be something he can keep going for the coming years and combine it with his Bluegrass Elite freshman camp he has every year.

He has had ongoing conversations with Metro Parks, specifically the Southwick Community Center, to have a camp finale that will wrap up the skills and development training.

It’s all in preparation as Williams packs his bags to say not goodbye but a see you later to his hometown of Louisville. He will be relocating to Georgia, where he will be working with Action Sports Academy to house kids that come in from Spain, Eastern Europe and various parts of the U.S.

“I’ll go and live in a house with the kids and be their coach and also help run the academy as we plan to expand to more boy teams. We will add a girls team this year, and eventually we will move to soccer and also expand to Florida and possibly even Louisville if there’s a market for it.”

In the meantime, kids will live by his motto: “Be the first in the gym and the last to leave,” and be immersed in the wisdom Williams exudes in what he calls, “giving back what I’ve learned over the years from my experiences through the sport of basketball.” VT

Arts on the Green

The Arts Association of Oldham County hosted this 18th annual affair on June 3 and 4. Held at the Oldham County Courthouse Square, the arts and crafts festival attracted more than 130 artists and included a juried contest awarding the best works. Food and live music entertained guests as they browsed. Proceeds benefited the Arts Association.

Photos by Tim Valentino.

Sacred Heart Academy 35th Reunion

Sacred Heart alumni gathered at the gorgeous Crescent Hill home of J.R. and Amy Streeter to celebrate their 35th reunion. Classmates enjoyed a lovely spread and plenty of laughs as they reflected on their treasured memories as Valkyries.

Photos by Tim Valentino.

Sonny Bass Birthday Party

Friends and family of the always delightful Sonny Bass gathered at Mesh on Brownsboro Road to celebrate the monumental occasion of his 96th birthday. Wonderfully thoughtful and uniquely entertaining toasts were given in his honor from the crowd of loved ones. To cap the evening, Sonny was adorned with a fitting crown that solidified the evening as a birthday party Sonny and his wife Gladys won’t soon forget.

Photos by Bill Wine.

Waggin’ Trail Festival for the Animals

Sunday, June 11 was a beautiful day for pet lovers across Kentuckiana to come together and raise funds for furry friends at Kentucky Humane Society. Over 1,000 people and their pets participated with over $96,000 raised. KHS is making a final plea to meet their $100,000 goal. It is not too late to give one last gift to the animals.

Photos by Tim Valentino.

Bourbon by the Bridge

The Fifth Annual Bourbon by the Bridge fundraiser occurred on June 10 under the Big Four Bridge. A number of spirits and cocktails were served during the all-you-can-taste event, featuring pours from Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Michter’s and more. Ladyfingers Catering served a number of delicious foods as the University of Louisville Jazz Band provided musical entertainment. Sponsored by Stoll Keenon Ogden, the event benefited Court Appointed Special Advocates, which trains advocates for abused and neglected children.

Photos By Chelsea Marrin.

2017 Whisky Live Louisville

On June 10, the final event of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair took place at the Louisville Marriott East. Guests were able to sample over 150 whiskeys at the state’s only bourbon-themed hotel. A bourbon-inspired dinner buffet delighted attendees as did a number of educational classes and programs. VIP guests had the chance to meet with master distillers and brand ambassadors to further their knowledge of the whiskeys they sampled.

Photos by Hunter Zieske.

Man and Woman of the Year Grand Finale

Every spring, candidates, survivors, sponsors, campaign teams, friends, family and other Leukemia & Lymphoma Society supporters gather at the Grand Finale for the announcement of the Man & Woman of the Year. This year’s Finale at The Olmsted revealed the Man & Woman of the LLS to be Barb Bresnahan and Jeff Peterman.

Photos by Max Sharp.

YPOP Summer Soiree

Held at the beautiful home of Ladonna Nicolas and Larry Shapin, the YPOP Summer Soiree was a party for all of the Young Professional Organizations in the arts and their friends hosted by the Opera’s Young Professional Group, YPOP.

Photos by Hunter Zieske.