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Upper St. Clair soccer team succeeds on 2 fronts

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Senior Matt McKenzie and other members of the Upper St. Clair boys soccer team prepare bagged lunches at the school, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. About 500 lunches were prepared and donated to the Light of Life Rescue Mission, along with a check for $20,000 from the Boys Soccer Boosters. At the beginning of the soccer season, the players asked friends and family to pledge money for each goal scored, resulting in the $20,000 donation. After scoring 93 goals in 17 games, the USC Boys soccer team went on to win the PIAA Class AAA championship for the second year in a row.

When Upper St. Clair residents pledged money to the high school boys' soccer boosters for every goal the varsity team scored this season, no one counted on the team setting a school scoring record and winning the PIAA Class AAA championship.

With 93 goals scored during the regular season and every soccer player in the school bringing in pledges, the club raised $40,000 — more than $430 per goal. Half of the money went to Light of Life Rescue Mission, along with about 500 bagged lunches the team packed on Saturday.

The pledge drive was the club's largest fundraiser, even with half the proceeds earmarked for charity.

“In the past, we've done some car washes, but this, we hit it out of the park,” booster club President Rob Mertz said. “It's by far and away the largest thing we've ever done in our organization, and we hope to continue it, expand it and do it again.”

With every player gathering pledges and half the proceeds promised to charity, commitments to the pledge drive quickly spread around the region, said Mertz, 46. Then the team's stellar on-field performance started turning those commitments into money for the club and the mission.

“When we went around, we were supposed to tell people that last year we scored 60 goals, and we won the state championship, so how much better can you get?” said Alex Ioli, 14, a member of the junior varsity team and one of the top three fundraisers.

Dominick Caruso, another top fundraiser, said he visited about 35 homes at the start of the season to solicit pledges. Most people pledged between 25 cents and $1 per goal, though one pledged $5 per goal.

“That was my aunt,” said Caruso, 17. “She was like, ‘You're bankrupting me!' ”

To go along with the monetary donation, the team packed lunches and delivered them to the mission. Mertz said the booster club's share of the funds will go toward transporting the team to games, buying equipment and paying for players to attend soccer camp.

“To see student athletes, who already have a lot of demands on their time... for them to take the time and think about the homeless and poor in Pittsburgh is such a great thing,” said Kate Wadsworth, spokeswoman for the Central North Side-based Light of Life.

It costs the mission about $2.34 to make a meal for one person. It runs emergency and long-term housing programs for men, women and children. Its annual budget is about $5 million.

“We live in a great community, and we've been very fortunate to be surrounded by everything we could need,” Caruso said. “There's nothing better than being able to give back while doing something you love.”

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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