Soldier's legacy lives

Nick Madaras loved soccer. Besides playing for Wilton High School in Connecticut, he served as a referee and volunteered as an assistant coach for a middle-school team. So it was no surprise to those who knew Madaras that, while deployed, the Army private first class shared his passion for the sport with Iraqi children. He’d watch them kick rocks down the streets of Baqubah, because they had no soccer balls.

While home on leave in July 2006, Madaras talked with his father, Bill, about sending soccer balls and equipment to Iraq so he could share them with local boys and girls.Two months later, 19-year-old Madaras was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol. But his plan to share soccer with Iraqi children didn’t die with him.

“I went to (Nick’s) graveside funeral service,” said Ken Dartley, a member of American Legion Post 86 in Wilton. “Afterward, in reading news accounts, I learned that Nick had been a soccer player and that he’d asked his father to send some soccer balls and equipment over to Iraq. I thought, ‘Why not try to help?’”Dartley contacted Bill Madaras and got permission from Post 86 to put up a soccer net in front of the post – right in the center of Wilton – as a drop-off point for soccer balls to send to Iraq.

In January of 2008, ESPN aired a piece on “Kick for Nick” that further spread the word, inspiring school and businesses to participate. The program has since received 23,032 balls – each of which has “Pfc. Nick Madaras” written on it.

“Kick for Nick” has made a difference. In the ESPN piece, Salah Farag of Karesh, Iraq, said through a translator, “We would like to say to (Nick’s) family that it is true that he was killed and they lost him. But as far as we are concerned, he is present with the Iraqi children, and whenever they play soccer, they will remember him.”

Gen. David Petraeus, then-commander of Multinational Force-Iraq, wrote a letter to the Madaras family applauding their work. “Your generous donations are enabling Iraqi children to play soccer, and they are tangible reminders to the Iraqi people and our troopers of the support we have from Americans like you.”