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George Grapsas of Tylikratis Soccer Club: Sporting Philanthropy
by Athena Efter
Greeks will always be united when it comes to two things: their love of Greece and their love of soccer. That united team spirit gives us our continued sense of pride and unwavering sense of “brotherly love”, adapted and widely understood universally as philanthropy. This time, soccer brought together Greek Americans who hail from the beautiful island of Lefkada to organize a fundraiser effort in order to support the island’s major and historical team, Tylikratis, named after an ancient admiral who served Lefkada with distinction. The idea was initiated by George Grapsas, who lived and worked for many years in the US, and currently serves as the team’s technical advisor. Visiting New York, as he does every year, he approached businessmen and professionals from Lefkada who live in New York, and they decided to call on their friends and partners to chip in and help raise some much needed funding for the team. NEO magazine is helping to spearhead this effort by offering publishing and ad space. The time couldn’t be better. This year marks the 90th anniversary of Tylikratis and the 40th anniversary since George Grapsas was drafted to the team, forging a long-standing relationship that exist today. “I can’t believe 40 years have passed already, it seems like it was yesterday,” says George in an interview with NEO magazine. “Since then, I have seen at least two generations of players going through the team, some getting to play in even bigger clubs of Greece.”
Tylikratis is now at the 3rd National Level and George hopes that with the financial support from the US, Lefkadians and their numerous friends will make it to the 2nd National Level which opens greater doors to national level stardom. He also wants to see the academy, which serves about 150 boys and girls aged 6-15 years old, kick it up a few goals farther, to include other sports. “With the economic crisis in Greece the last seven years, our effort has been affected, but we held our ground and we managed to expand.” According to Grapsas, the Academy and the team are not just about sports but socialization. “In the Academy, kids learn discipline and commitment, skills that they will need as adults. Also, it’s the best way to take them out of the street. After school and their homework, they know that they have to show up for training.”
Children who are enrolled in the academy do not pay tuition and have all their expenses covered, including travel, uniform, and any medical needs. It’s a vision for the future, where the future of Greek youth, remains uncertain in a broken, struggling economy. The people of Telykratis are determined to keep these young boys on the right course – to keep them hopeful, to keep them inspired, to give them courage, and to remind them that they can rise above adversity and difficulty by understanding the value, the principles, and camaraderie of team spirit and good sportsmanship.
Apart from training them in the skill, the strategy, and rules of the game, they make it a point to train the students on how to become responsible, compassionate and thoughtful citizens. This idea of creating students of any discipline as good citizens first is rooted in the Ancient Greek notion of “paideia”. They also invite politicians, athletes, high ranking members of law enforcement, social workers, and psychologists to educate children about the dangers of drugs and the importance of using their humanity for the betterment of themselves and the benefit and advancement of society.
“It’s not enough to tell a child this is how you become a good athlete and a good citizen. You have to physically engage them into a tactile, hands-on, full sensory experience. Yes, you have to hand them the trash bags, the gloves, and the brooms, and let them experience all the heavy lifting too,” says George. Students of the academy participate in a variety of community activities that involve volunteer work in the maintenance and clean-up of streets, beaches, parks, and recreational areas. They also offer assistance to the elderly by providing meals and visiting hospitals, and several other charitable activities.
Having produced generations of athletes, Tylikratis strives for excellency in all they do. They are committed to hiring experienced coaches to train students and doctors specializing in sports medicine to give students the best medical care and treatment of injuries. George and the academy’s administrative team do not get paid salaries. They do this out of dedication to the children and the sport they love. For Grapsas, this commitment started a long time ago, when he first signed up with the team and it encouraged him to be the good citizen and philanthropist he is now. He does it now for the children who will carry the tradition of the highly regarded Tylikratis team into the future.
Maybe one day you’ll be rooting for one, two, or three of them in Olympiakos, Panathanaikos, AEK or PAOK, even …Real! but in the end, all Greek soccer fans will be cheering for one Greece in the World Cup.