A Magical Day of Soccer and Butterflies

by Nikki Mark

On Mother’s Day two weeks ago, I woke up shortly after 6 a.m. and heard myself whisper, “Happy 18th birthday, Tommy. Let’s go celebrate.”

I got dressed, grabbed my car keys, and drove down to Tommy’s Field at Westwood Recreation Center. There, friends and volunteers were already setting up for the TM23 Foundation’s first youth soccer tournament, the TM23 Community Cup.

“Please send me a sign that you are with us today, T,” I said out loud as I drove to the park. “Just don’t mess with the electrical!”

I planned the details of the day in my mind and felt butterflies in my stomach.

240 children from across Los Angeles had signed up to participate in this friendly soccer competition, and we were expecting at least 300-400 family members, coaches, referees, and volunteers combined.

I was nervous.

In all the months I had been planning this event, I never thought about what could go wrong. When I finally did, it was too late to do much about it. Fortunately, as my anxiety level began to spike, a quote by a spiritual teacher named Joe Vitale came to mind and calmed my nerves:

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.”

The TM23 Community Cup did just that.

Although I recognized that my butterflies meant I had a healthy goal in front of me, I decided not to take any chances. In the privacy of my car, I got creative and said, “T, can you make sure all the teams show up on time? If you need help, ask my grandmother, Mama, to get on it too.” Mama was a force of nature that few dared to cross, and I like to think her spirit is with Tommy, watching over our family.

Feeling that the fear was now in capable hands, the butterflies in my stomach grew excited.

The TM23 Foundation had ice cream and team fees sponsored for all the kids. A DJ played throughout the day. Rocks were provided for everyone to paint. Local food and drink offerings were available for everyone. Special jerseys were designed by streetwear designer and MLS creative advisor Guillermo Andrade for the winners and volunteers. Famed tattoo artist Dr. Woo designed a new logo for the jerseys. SWAG was distributed by LA Galaxy, LAFC and Electrolit on-site. Moms were given roses for Mother’s Day. Venice Beach FC founders donated their time to manage the on-field soccer all day. The Department of Rec & Parks fully supported all audio visual and setup needs, while Niky’s Sports contributed equipment and prepared all the jerseys.

Last but not least, small-sided soccer games were played for over six hours straight, designed to foster creativity and support the technical development of young players.

Before Tommy’s sudden departure, the old me would have been so hyper-focused on the details that she would have gotten lost in them and forgotten to enjoy the day. But the person I’ve become these past five years remembered the mission of this day was to unite the soccer community and lift our city with the spirit of play. It was Mother’s Day, after all, and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it. So, I left the details to fate and immersed myself in the magic of the day.

First, all 24 teams showed up on time smiling and ready to play.

Then, there was the team who wore special t-shirts under their jerseys with Tommy’s brand logo written on them (“It’s not a game issa lifestyle”) and flashed them at the sideline every time they scored.

There were Tommy’s school friends who showed up to volunteer, and his former teammates from when he was eleven and twelve years old, who spent the afternoon reconnecting with one another and playing an informal round of pickup.

An older boys’ team of friends came together from multiple clubs and surprised us by putting our TM23 logo on their self-made jerseys.

There was the moment when Tommy suddenly flashed through my mind as I was taking a picture of two of his close friends. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large butterfly fluttered right behind their backs, slow enough for me to thank Tommy for giving me the sign I had asked for that morning, but far too fast for my fingers to capture on camera. I had never seen a butterfly in this park before, given its lack of flowers. And I certainly never expected one to fly through hundreds of people on all sides of where we were standing.

Finally, at the very end of the day, there was the impromptu speech I made before handing out prizes when I realized that beyond the butterflies I felt on the inside and the one I saw on the outside, there was the butterfly effect I could feel from one athletic field. My voice cracked, and tears filled my eyes when I said, “Thank you, players, coaches, parents, clubs, sponsors, and volunteers, for joining us. It gives me so much peace and fulfillment to see this field unite our community and give children and adults a place to simply engage with one another and play.”

It was a magical day of soccer, community, and butterflies.

We will be back next year!

And given our second Tommy’s Field opens this summer, we intend to expand the tournament to both locations and field by field create an energy grid across our city that lifts Los Angeles with the spirit of play.

Enjoy the video recap below! And thank you again to so many of you who supported this day and gave it wings.

P.S. If you participated in the event as a player, coach, parent, or volunteer, please take a minute to fill out this survey so we can factor in your feedback and make the event even better next year: Here’s the link to answer 6 brief questions. If you didn’t participate or sponsor an aspect of the event but would like to be involved next year, I’d love to know that too! You can also leave your comments below and be part of the community discussion.

2 thoughts on “A Magical Day of Soccer and Butterflies”

  1. Just want to say THANK YOU for doing what you do. The power of play to unite us all has been lost in our frenetic, over-scheduled lives. And yes, it does seem that your model has a Butterfly Effect. Can’t wait to feel the wind of the wings!


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