Friday, November 16, 2007

New Team, New Beginning

First, check out this photo of street soccer action. Would you guess the game going on here was taking place at a soup kitchen for the homeless. If not, why?

Well, that question aside, we turn our focus to the latest team developments. We are proud to announce that Street Soccer has expanded its progamming (we will announce this again in January). On Wednesday night, Street Soccer began its new two-team system. One team for an interim basis we will call the Street Soccer Stars. This team involves highly skilled players who in many cases have been with the program for while and have gotten off the street, but for whom playing soccer is a sustaining force in their life. Street Soccer 945's traditional team now focuses specifically on players who are developing their soccer skills. This developmental team gives more people the chance to get in the game, and that is what Street Soccer is all about, giving people the chance to compete, to feel alive, to test themsleves, to fail, to practice, to succeed, and giving it to people who otherwise feel locked out of life becuase they are homeless.

Our pep talk before wendnesday's game was about realism. Guys, the coaches emphasized, tonight is about gaining experience and building up team skills. We want to focus on staying in our positions and playing goal-side defence. We want to win tonight, but our objective is to get better. Things will go wrong, we will be challenged, and we might even get far behind on the scoreboard. That is okay because tonight our main objective is to learn. What we can control no matter what is our spirit and our hustle. Let's go out there and show everyone our hustle, our spirit, and our class."

Our team featured John Nze, a fifty something Nigerian who probably weighs two or three pounds over a hundred. Amadeus, a 21 year old Harry potter look-a-like from New York whose story we are trying to learn piece by piece, Capone, 5 foot even on a good day, a 38 year old man who is completely new to soccer, Pop Miller and Tony Kelley, two folks who are seeking to improve their skills but added some experience to our roster, Justin who is 22 from Charlotte, 6 foot 3 and wears size 16 boots, Rodney a 19 year old from Shelby who wrestled in high school and is new to soccer, and a new recruit, Tim, who actually has "star" team skillls. Tim is in recovery and despite what misconceptions his heavy country accent conjures, is an eccelent soccer player who played some in college and who used to be the only "white guy" in the Latino leagues here in Charlotte.

Our team passed the ball and kept their positons throughout the game. Slowly but surely after a couple early scares, we realized we were having the better of the play. The pressure was on because before the game we noticed one of our opponents was Rob, the manager at Brixx Pizza who had first furnished our uniforms and post game meals. Just before half we squeezed in a goal and then we found ourselves up by two when Tony Kelley, who took on a leadership role in the absence of the more skilled players, powered in a low left footed free kick past the goalie. Watching Tony all night was the most gratifying period of Rob's and my coaching exprience at Street Soccer. Tony who we have banned from the team again and again, and who always eventually does what we ask and invariably shows up to every practice, made consistent good passes, played responsible defence, showed dynamic footskills,and really was the difference in the game. By coincidence this week, the ex-girlfriend of Tony's adopted father walked into my office on Tuesday. We talked for an hour about Tony, how special he his, and how he has struggled. Tony spoke with her by telephone on Wednesday and I wondered if that connection had anything to do with his inspired performance. As she and I concluded, "Tony needs a lot of love."

The finals score was a 3-1 Street Soccer victory. After the game we took John to work at an organization called Samaritan's Purse. This group sends shoe boxes full of Christmas goodies to impoverished communities in Africa, among them, communties in John's native Nigeria. With the rest of the team we went back to the Center, showered and dropped folks off at the winter shelter, one person at a half way house, one at transit, and another at a "friend's."

Today we have practice on the court pictured above at 1pm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hunger Week at Belmont Abbey College supports Street Soccer for the 2nd Year in a Row.

Belmont Abbey College hosted their annual Hunger Week at the College to raise awareness and funds to support the homeless and impoverished in the Charlotte area last week. Part of Hunger Week was a 5k run and 1 mile walk on Saturday. The student commitee that organized the race chose Street Soccer 945 again this year as the beneficiary of the funraiser. Participants, mostly students, paid an entry fee and raced with the motto in mind "will run for food." Entry fees and sponsorships from local businesses totaled $2600 that was donated directly to Street Soccer 945. Incredible; thank you Belmont Abbey! We are pictured here receiving our check with the "Will Run for Food" commitee.

Racers from Street Soccer 945 included Rodney, John, Sherwood, Diane, Ray, Toney, me, Rob Cann, and our mascot for the day, my dog Ulrich. We met at the UMC at 7am when it was still dark out and the weather still pretty chilly but holding true to their word our runners showed up to represent the team. In particular Rodney Giles, 18 years old, who has been with the team for just the last month, was a standout. Rodney, running in his first race, walked 3 miles from the emergency winter shelter just to get to the center on Saturday so he could then run in the 5k. Rodney is pictured here with his number just before the race began. He finished just behind the coach, but far ahead of his other teammates. My advice to the runners was to start out with a slow jog and to settle into a steady pace. Rodney decided he was going to go at the run a little differently. He started with a sprint, jumping out in front of everyone only to burn out and start walking a quarter mile into the race, a classic long distance run mistake. Ulrich and I came zig-zaging up and got in Rodney's ear as we passed by him only to see a streak of blue pass by us a minute later as he sprinted out a hundred yards ahead. Again he could not sustain his pace. This was our pattern for the race. It mimicked the flow of Rodney's life right now. He is up at 4:30 am at the winter shelter to go four miles to Einstein Bagel for his shift which is seven hours long. With nowhere to rest, he finds any place he can to re-energize before he starts his night job valet parking. When his job finishes, he has a 4 mile walk back to the winter shelter for another small rest. Run, walk, run, walk, run walk. Starting and stopping and fighting fatigue is what Rodney has to do until he can gather enough money to find his own place to live. With his good spirits and calm demeanor and the drive he showed in the race on Saturday, success, at least on a small, school looks eminent for this young man.