Though the Covid-19 pandemic put the kibosh on the 2020 soccer season for Kingston Stockade FC, it didn’t stop the enthusiasm of its celebrated supporters group, the Dutch Guard. The most celebrated Stockade backers of all have continued showing their support for the club, most recently taking part in the 23rd annual Fishkill Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics New York.
Three members of the Dutch Guard — vice president Anthony Saullo, treasurer Bradley Delmar, and ambassador Mellisa Higgins — jumped into the icy waters of Sharpe Reservation, raising $1,040 for the Special Olympics in the process.
“Last year I did the plunge for Polar Plunge NY and Special Olympics NY with work,” said Saullo. “I knew that this was the perfect event for the Dutch Guard to get involved with. To be able to raise money for these athletes means the world to us. One of our members is a coach for the Special Olympics and we have had athletes present the Community Cup to Stockade during the 2019 season as well as have had Special Olympics athletes from Anderson Center for Autism play drums with us at almost every home game.”
Stockade fans on game day have surely felt the presence and energy of the Dutch Guard, their drums and chants echoing around a packed Dietz Stadium. Bedecked in orange and black, the Dutch Guard are also staples of away matches, showing up for Stockade FC on distant road trips.
“In 2019, some of our members traveled over 2,000 miles in total to watch Stockade FC play,” Saullo said. “Our goal is to bring the Dietz Stadium atmosphere wherever our Stockade boys are playing. Sometimes we outnumber the home crowd.”
The Dutch Guard was founded by Ryan Suto in 2015 shortly after the announcement of the formation of Kingston Stockade FC, a semi-professional team playing in the National Premier Soccer League.
“At its founding, the group didn’t have a name but after a poll in a local paper the name Dutch Guard was chosen,” said Saullo. “In 2019 the Dutch guard joined the Independent Supporters Council, a collective of supporters groups throughout North America. We aim to cultivate a diverse, inclusive and passionate soccer community throughout the Hudson Valley.”
In addition to the trio who took part in the Polar Plunge, other key members include Marian Eflein (president), Marie Limbach (secretary), Shane Pusey (art design), Eric Ovalle (art design) and Jonathan Hambright (drums).
As was the case for everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the Dutch Guard’s plan last year. But rather than sit on the sidelines, they decided to keep the message moving forward.
“Going into 2020, we had a ton of plans for the season that would improve upon our 2019 efforts,” Saullo said. “Once we knew that we had to cancel our events and plans due to COVID, we decided that engagement would be one of our top priorities. Social media was our biggest tool to reach people. Everything with 2021 is currently up in the air but we have plans for every scenario that could be thrown at us.”
The Polar Plunge isn’t the first time the Dutch Guard has gotten involved and given back. Community engagement is a key component of what the supporters group is all about.
“Personally one of my favorite things about Stockade and Dutch Guard is that we can give back to the community through our fundraising efforts,” said Saullo.
Among their initiatives have been multiple glove and hat drives to benefit People’s Place in Kingston; a soccer gear drive for Kicking Back, Ltd. in LaGrange; a campaign through Prideraiser which raised over $1,000 for the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center in Kingston; volunteering for the opening ceremonies at the Special Olympics Summer Games; a t-shirt fundraiser during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with proceeds going toward the purchase of sanitizer, masks and PPE for a Kingston domestic violence center; and volunteering to help build La Finca, a community soccer and futsal court under the pavilion in Marbletown Town Park.
“The Dutch Guard has been such a positive force in bringing people together,” said Stockade chairman Dennis Crowley. “Most people think of them as the ones banging the drums the loudest at Stockade games, but they’re always to first to show up to support the team on the road, and they’ve been known to show up and cheer at local youth soccer games and local women’s league games too. In a way, they’re the epitome of what a supporters group should be, not just supporting the team on game day, but supporting the entire community that the team represents, all year long.”
Which is why Saullo, Delmar and Higgins found themselves leaping into the icy unknown in Fishkill on Saturday, February 20. As with everything the Dutch Guard gets involved with, they jumped in feet first.
“The best quote I heard to describe what it’s like to jump in the frigid water is ‘it’s breathtaking,’” Saullo said. “Our goal next year is to get even more fans and possibly a player or coach to take the plunge.”