Elizabethtown College alumnus David Jones “DJ” ‘86 began the North Penn Soccer Club in April 2021 to fill a void in his community and help remove the socio-economic barriers that stand in the way of youth being able to play the sport.
Organized soccer can be expensive for families, preventing many kids from picking up the sport. That’s why Jones set up a low-fee structure where he’s charging participants a nominal fee to join the club while making it free for those who cannot afford it.
Instead of chasing the traditional sponsorship opportunities that most youth soccer clubs pursue, Jones is focused on building relationships through giving back. He added the option for participants to sponsor another child by paying their registration fee.
“You know exactly which child you sponsor and they know who sponsored them,” said Jones. “All that is asked in return is a simple thank you note. My hope is that some people will use that as a bridge to mentor and get involved in that child’s life.”
The club is based out of Hatfield, Pa., a borough in Montgomery County. Jones, who studied Business Administration – Marketing/Advertising at Etown, committed to starting the club in early 2020. Then the pandemic hit and forced him to put his plans on hold.
After spending the next few months developing the club’s brand and marketing materials, Jones officially got the word out and opened registration on April 1, 2021. The club is now up to more than 225 participants and growing.
“The first week I was nervous that not enough people would sign up,” said Jones. “By the next week, I was nervous that too many people were going to sign up.”
Jones made three programs available: K-2nd grade, ages 3-5, and 3rd-6th grade. The local community buy-in was immediate as Hatfield Township felt strongly enough about Jones’ mission to offer the fields for free.
Too much pressure is being placed on youth in sports, says Jones, and training centered on maximizing a child’s talent continues to begin at an earlier and earlier age. Jones believes that this has led to the fun having been taken out of youth sports. The goal of his club is to allow kids to be kids.
“Anyone that knows me knows that it’s all about having fun,” said Jones, who refers to himself as the Chief Enthusiasm Officer (CEO) of the club. “We’re going to teach them soccer in a framework where they’re going to learn but everything is going to be at the level where they’re going to have fun doing it.”
“Ultimately our goal is to get kids to associate soccer with fun so that when they go home, they want to play.”
Building off of his soccer club model, Jones is looking to expand by adding additional sports, such as a summer basketball league, and he’s interested in helping other communities get similar programs up and running.
“The goal is to have four seasons and for kids to have the opportunity to play 2-3 different sports a year,” said Jones. “There are too many kids who aren’t playing sports, so the goal is to just get them started.”
Jones blended his Etown Business education with his sports background on the College’s men’s soccer team to shape his career path.
“Every day I’m doing what I love to do,” said Jones, who also owns a company that produces soccer corner flags for high school, college, and professional teams. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to pick and choose what I wanted to pursue in the business world and in the soccer world.”
A stand-out for the Blue Jays under head coach Skip Rodderick, who was hired during Jones’ sophomore year, Jones was named a First Team All-American in 1985 and eventually played professionally in Ireland, as well as for the Philadelphia Freedom of the United Soccer League.
“Once I graduated, I thought that everyone had the same soccer experience in college that I had,” said Jones, who was inducted into Etown’s Ira R. Herr Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. “I thought they all had a coach who was well involved in your whole life and wanted you to be successful, along with teammates who had that same mentality. But I played with a lot of guys after college that didn’t have anywhere near the same experience or have the same relationships with their coach, teammates, or alumni that we did at Etown.”
For Jones, Etown is a family affair. His wife, Heidi, is also an alumni and his daughter Claudia recently graduated from the College with a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 2021. He also still gets together at least once a year with 5-6 Jays that he graduated with.
“It’s cool to be a part of something like that,” said Jones. “We get together and rehash stories. The older you get, the better a soccer player you think you were.”