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Palm Coast Monday, May 18, 2020 2 years ago

Flagler students team up to help kids 'shop' for free sports equipment

SWAP group wins state FPS competition, heads to virtual international competition.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

When one of Ben Kopach’s teammates broke a soccer cleat the day before a game, it looked like the teammate was out of luck. He couldn’t order a new pair of size 13 cleats in time to play.

But Kopach had a solution, thanks to his Community Problem Solvers group, Flagler County Sports SWAP, which stands for Students Wanting Athletic Participation. The group, which won first place in its division in the Florida Future Problem Solvers competition in April, collects donations of sports equipment, organizes it, displays it, and then gives it away to anyone who needs it. If families are able to donate their own outgrown equipment in exchange for lightly used equipment that they need, great, but, if not, the donated equipment is given away.

When his teammate’s cleat broke, Kopach remembered that a size 13 pair of cleats had recently been donated to SWAP. He was able to make the connection and help his teammate play in the game.

“When I handed over the cleat, it was a good feeling that he wouldn’t have to sit on the bench and not be able to play,” Kopach recalled in a Zoom interview with the Palm Coast Observer.


Starting SWAP

Kopach, a freshman at Matanzas High School, is joined in the group by some of his childhood friends: Jake Blumengarten and Tommy Sturman, both freshmen at Flagler Palm Coast High School; and Aiden White, an eighth grader at Indian Trails Middle School. The FPS official who interviewed Kopach for the state competition told him that this was the first group he could remember that featured students from both high school and middle school.

SWAP’s coach is Amy Kopach, Ben’s mother. She said all four of the boys have played sports for years, and the parents would sometimes arrange with each other to trade sports equipment, some of which was used for one only season before it was outgrown.

As they started SWAP, the boys took surveys and found that it was a common struggle among Flagler County families. They also had memories from other players on their own teams.

“One time I was in the middle of a game, and my teammate showed up, and he didn’t have a glove,” recalled Sturman. “Then I remembered I had a spare glove in my bag, so I let him use it.”

Blumengarten recalled a football player having to borrow a cleat during one game. “It was really cool to see how some people who aren’t fortunate can get support so they can play the sport they want to play," he said.


Shopping for free

On Jan. 21, SWAP opened a storefront at Shepherd of the Coast Lutheran Church, 101 Pine Lakes Parkway, where people could come and “shop” for free equipment on Monday evenings. It was only open for about six weeks before it had to close due to the pandemic.

But in that time, the boys were busy. About $12,000 worth of equipment had been donated, and there was participation from many sports leagues around town. At the shop, there were sometimes 10 families waiting for help with equipment.

White recalled one family that had just moved to town and had no equipment to play baseball. The child walked away with an equipment bag, mitt, bat, helmet, cleats — everything.

“They were very thankful,” White said.

SWAP will compete in the International Competition in June, online. Email [email protected], or look for @flaglersportsswap on Facebook or Instagram.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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