Hall of Fame soccer player Bob Smith kept looking up as he spoke.
Smith sat on a gray plastic folding chair in the lobby of the Robbinsville Field House indoor sports facility on West Manor Way. A wall-length, black and white photo of Glenn “Mooch” Myernick hung next to him.
Smith glanced at the photo and adjusted his black warm-up jacket with “MOOCH” stitched in red on the front. He spoke about his friendship with Myernick, a 1972 Lawrence High School graduate who went on to play and coach soccer at the professional and international levels before dying suddenly of a heart attack in 2006.
Myernick’s death shocked the soccer community, including the many friends he still had in Mercer County. Those friends decided they had to do something to honor Myernick and continue spreading the sport he spent his life playing.
This was why Smith sat in the field house, in that plastic chair, looking up at a photograph of a curly-haired Myernick playing for the North American Soccer League’s Dallas Tornado.
He was there to talk about Mooch Soccer, a program started in April 2007 that introduces children from Trenton to organized soccer. It runs in association with the Trenton recreation department and begins by teaching soccer and social skills to the children.
Buses full of children from Trenton roll into the field house parking lot every Wednesday afternoon once the weather becomes cold. The Mooch Soccer program runs year-round, but the Robbinsville Field House is the only facility Mooch Soccer uses in the winter.
At the field house, volunteer soccer coaches run the children through a soccer practice. There are officially 50 to 60 children in the program, but Smith said any child who hops on the school bus to Robbinsville can play. Some of the more advanced athletes have been picked up by competitive soccer teams. It’s an achievement the children wouldn’t have if not for the Mooch Soccer program or the field house.
“It’s been a Godsend for us,” said Charlie Inverso, one of the Mooch coaches and head soccer coach at Mercer County Community College. “The kids get a kick out of it. Everyone should have the chance to see their faces as they get off the bus and walk through the bubble. Their enthusiasm is like it’s Christmas Day.”
Smith — in conjunction with developer Christopher Vernon and facility manager Tim Rosenblum — opened the field house with the understanding that the facility could be a great business opportunity. They have that portion covered with the winter recreational soccer leagues, competitive tournaments and travel teams that use the field house.
But the three also knew they could spread some goodwill with the now two-year-old structure.
“The field house has donated time for them to train,” Smith said. “We allow them to come into our leagues. That’s been one of the really nice parts of this facility. There’s a business going on here, but there are a lot of things that are good things we can do.”
Those good things haven’t gone unnoticed.
“It’s great. Bobby Smith has been very generous,” said Myernick’s 24-year-old son, Travis. “There’s not too many place nicer than that to train in the winter. You can see it in their eyes; it’s a different world for them.”
Travis Myernick recently moved from Colorado to Philadelphia. Now within driving distance of the Trenton area, he immediately began volunteering his time to help his father’s namesake foundation. A former college player at Wingate University, he serves as a volunteer coach.
“I think it’s great,” Travis Myernick said. “It’s something these kids need. It gives these kids an opportunity to play soccer. They have a unique opportunity. It’s a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people. There’s still a lot to be done, but it came along way in a short time.”
The Robbinsville Field House is located at 153 W. Manor Way in Robbinsville. For more information about the field house, visit robbinsvillefieldhouse.com or call (609) 259-8787. For more on Mooch Soccer, visit moochsoccer.org.