Student-Led Area Homeless Soccer Team Participates in National Tournament

August 03, 2009

Aug. 3, 2009 — Walking down University Avenue to 14th Street on the Corner, University of Virginia students often encounter homeless people, many of whom ask for money, fourth-year Garrett Trent said.

Most students choose to walk on past. But Trent and several other U.Va. students have chosen differently: through their involvement with a national soccer program for homeless people, they're showing that sports can create meaningful community relationships and inspire players off the field.

The local team, Street Soccer CVL, competed in Washington, D.C. over the weekend as part of the Street Soccer USA Cup '09. In fast-paced, four-on-four games, the team finished 11th in the 16-team field with a 5-3 record .

For the players and volunteers, the weekend was about much more than a soccer tournament.

Hope Community Center executive director Joshua Bare says U.Va. students are the driving force behind Street Soccer CVL. Around 10 U.Va. students attend practices regularly, said third-year U.Va. student and Street Soccer CVL coach Trigg Brown.

"Students have led it from the beginning," Bare said.

Sixteen Street Soccer teams play throughout the nation, and while Charlottesville's team is the currently the only one to be student-led, that may soon change. University of North Carolina students are developing a program and Hampton-Sydney students are interested in the program as well.

"Sydney students have even come to U. Va. to participate in practice to get ideas for Farmville," Brown said.

Around 25 to 30 people, ranging in age from 16 to 38, attend the Charlottesville team's twice-weekly practices, which are open to both men and women.

Eight of the players attended the three-day tournament in Washington. Bare said many of the quieter players had opened up and some had talked about applying for jobs.

"That's what's neat … seeing them want to improve their lives," Bare said.

The U.S. Cup boosts the players' confidence, Bare said, and allows people to see them beyond the stigma of the homeless label.

"For three days, they're not homeless. They are celebrated," Bare said.

The Charlottesville team includes players from Iraq, Myanmar and Thailand. Asylum seekers like Ahmed "Sammy" Al-molhem are eligible to play in the tournament. Al-molhem, a former translator for the U.S. Army, fled Iraq with his wife and three daughters, arriving in the United States on June 11.

With the dangers of life in Baghdad behind him, Al-molhem embraces the challenge of his new start in Charlottesville.

"Life is life. I have to continue," said Al-molhem, who won the Courage Award at the U.S. Cup.

Another teammate, a Myanmar refugee named Ehneyhser, won a spot in the national team pool, meaning he has potential to play for the U.S. in the Homeless World Cup in Milan this September.

"It was a unique experience for the players and coaches alike," said Brown, who is the younger brother of Street Soccer USA founder Lawrence Cann. "It means a lot to have the University behind us."

Cann says he is impressed with the Charlottesville program.

"They've done the hard work of building relationships and trust," Cann said.

In addition to Street Soccer CVL, Trent has helped start an art and garden program and is coordinating a summer-long initiative with HOPE in parks around Charlottesville, the "Meet Your Neighbor Project."

"It's about linking students' passion with something they can do in the community," Trent said. "When people become passionate about those in need around them and develop a vision for how they specifically can give back, the opportunities are endless and hope can thrive."

— By Laura Hoffman