One does not have to know how to kick a soccer ball to be a part of the JAHBAT semi-professional club soccer team community. While the Evanston- and Roger’s Park-based team is composed of 15 core semi-professional and professional players, there are roughly 40 more regulars who practice with the team weekly, and numerous parents, friends and fans who support JAHBAT on and off the field.
Will Pool, the team’s current manager and one of its core players, said that JAHBAT, a member of the National Soccer League of Chicago, has been sustained by its greater community since its inception in 1996.
“We don’t have a sponsor,” Mr. Pool said, “and there are expenses … legal fees, field rental fees. … Last year we raised $5,000 and we were scraping to get by.”
To form a team without a commercial or private sponsor is atypical for a semi-professional team, Mr. Pool said. More often, he said, such teams are financed by an interested second party, who pays for everything from referee and league affiliation fees to basic team expenses, such as new jerseys and soccer balls. Sometimes, Mr. Pool said, sponsors even pay their players, depending on their skill levels.
JAHBAT works differently, Mr. Pool said. While many semi-professional soccer teams are made up of paid players who are recruited by the teams’ sponsors, he said, JAHBAT members have always come together to play of their own accord. This makes the team self-sustaining, but also fully dependent on its members’ interest in and devotion to the game of soccer, and to the JAHBAT team.
Such fervor seems prevalent among JAHBAT members.
The team was founded by Franz Calixte, Kevin Francis and Jean Gregoir, who are long-time players and coaches of teams and clubs based in Evanston and Roger’s Park, such as Team Evanston and the boys and girls soccer teams at Evanston Township High School and Niles North High School. Recognition of these players’ reputations as dedicated soccer enthusiasts drew other local collegiate semi-professional players, as well as players in high school.
Mr. Pool and friend Jed Schenkier were both sophomores at ETHS when they started practicing with JAHBAT in 2001.
The team has “a camaraderie and spirit that is just so strong,” Mr. Schenkier said. “But it takes a level of commitment,” he added.
The team’s unique player-driven energy has always attracted a steady flow of interest, said Mr Calixte. In fact, because JAHBAT practices are not limited to core players, there are around 50 individuals who rotate in and out of the bi-weekly team practices that take place year-round, said Mr. Schenkier.
“There is so much talent,” he said. “Fielding a team is never a problem.”
Still, the players who show up consistently are those who see play-time during games, he said. Core players also tend to take on more team-related responsibilities, said Mr. Pool. They help hold fundraisers, send out donation requests and often split soccer-related fees among themselves. Thus, JAHBAT relies on its local connections for its survival, year to year.
The team considers itself a product of its community in many ways. Indeed, the name “JAHBAT” is an acronym for Jamaica-America-Haiti-Belize-Asia-Trinidad, the cultural origins of the team’s first players in 1996. Team members trumpet a roster that has remained diverse, “unlike any other team in Chicago,” according to a recent fundraising letter the team sent out.
JAHBAT has recently become incorporated, and is applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
JAHBAT team members say they are interested in connecting with the Evanston-Roger’s Park area even more in the future, possibly in conjunction with other local organizations. Mr. Pool said that the team hopes to hold a soccer camp for youth in Evanston this summer.
Just after Christmas, JAHBAT collaborated with another area organization, the Boocoo Café and Community Center, on the corner ofChurch Street
, for a party and fundraising event. Team members sent out invitations “to all the people we could think of,” said Mr. Pool. JAHBAT asked for a $5 donation from attendees upon entry. Drinks were about $3, a plate of food about $5; JAHBAT-branded T-shirts went for $10 each. The event was a team effort: A JAHBAT friend came to deejay, Jed’s cousin designed the flyer for the party – and his mom cooked the macaroni and cheese.
More information about JAHBAT can be found at myspace.com/jahbatfc or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.