East Midvale principal recognized as MVP for RSL, Midvale communityFeb 22, 2022 09:08PM ● By Julie Slama
East Midvale Elementary Principal Matt Nelson, in his customized RSL jersey he received as the MLS WORKS Community MVP award-winner, plays soccer with some of his fourth-graders at recess. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
By his own words, East Midvale Elementary Principal Matt Nelson brought together people and communities to make a positive impact in their lives.
Nelson’s efforts earned him the MLS WORKS Community MVP award for Real Salt Lake as one of 27 MVPs around the country—one for each MLS club—who were honored for making a positive impact to help their communities.
Through Wells Fargo, Nelson received a $2,500 donation to a charity of his choice, the International Rescue Committee; a customized RSL jersey; and a RSL Community MVP 2021 scarf. He also is to receive a MLS Adidas NATIVO 21 official match ball.
“I just love and always have loved getting to know all kinds of people ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “I have a skill of being able to bring people together. There’s a lot of satisfaction to just break barriers to bring people together and have some good things going on in the world.”
Nelson, who has coached his son’s competitive soccer team for the past three years, and who has been the principal of a Title I school where more than 17 languages are spoken for the past four years, merged the communities through the love of soccer.
“Matt has a passion for soccer,” RSL Director of Community Relations Kyle Schroeder said. “He knows that the Midvale community has a tremendous passion for soccer, especially his students. He’s trying to bridge the gap to make sure that there are opportunities for them to play by providing gear, field space and things like that.”
Schroeder said the award is not attached to soccer, but for doing something good for the community; in Nelson’s case, merging communities to make soccer accessible to everyone.
“Matt was recognized for his work with refugees and improving their lives,” he said, adding that RSL has provided balls, jerseys and other gear and game tickets for Nelson to distribute to these students and families who aren’t in a financial position to get them into soccer and to attend professional games.
Those items, and a collection provided through a soccer gear drive with the Cottonwood Football Club, were distributed at the Canyons Crossing apartments, where a huge population of families from Africa, Middle East, Afghanistan and other countries attend his school.
“I’m a huge fan and I play. I played growing up; it’s a huge part of my life. A lot of these kids also love playing soccer so I just reached out to people and said, ‘Let’s get them some soccer balls and collect gear from families so they can have some proper equipment,’” Nelson said.
With help organizing and distributing the boxfuls of donations, Nelson was able to have kids come out from their apartments to “get outfitted and try on shoes. We started pick-up games and really had a fun morning. I got to interact with some of the parents of students at the school, meet their whole family, and make those connections. It was just great.”
It went beyond that one day.
When Nelson learned of two refugees from Afghanistan, who used to play on the streets of Kabul, had a real passion for the game, he arranged for those kids to get tryouts, coordinated club fees and organized carpools for them to get to practices and games.
“It’s just been really cool to see communities come together and rally around these kids,” he said. “There were just lots of smiles, and I think it was really impactful day for a lot of people to have these positive interactions with these people and it all centered around the love of soccer.”
Nelson doesn’t intend for it to be a one-time event.
“Collecting the gear, organizing and distributing it and making those connections with families and finding kids who really want to play and get on a team is definitely something I want to continue,” he said, hoping to involve more nearby competitive soccer clubs in the donation and distribution process. “I’d like to get more coaches to come identify players who have the skills and right attitude to be successful teammates.”
Nelson also reached out to nearby Hillcrest High boys soccer coach Brett Davis and the team to put on a spring clinic last year for about 50 kids who signed up.
However, Nelson isn’t limiting his vision to just soccer.
“I’d love to have a nonprofit that goes beyond soccer and focuses on recreational access for families that have less access to any sports or just accessing the mountains so helping families if they want to go camping or go on a hike and learning where to go and what gear to bring or even, having the access of getting to the mountains. I just want to help increase the quality of life,” he said.
Nelson said East Midvale Elementary is home not only to his students, but to him as well.
“Being principal at East Midvale has opened my eyes and my mind. My whole life changed for the better for having interactions and learning how to support these kids and families,” he said. “I think that’s my biggest thing is just making everybody feel welcome, feel valued, feel seen, feel safe in the school. So, reaching out to the community and doing this extra stuff is not going out of my way, it’s doing something to make people feel welcome. The diversity we have, and the people are really amazing so I’m just helping to make others aware and to make those connections and that has been really fun for me to see.”