Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fort Worth Street Soccer Effort Recognized

Please Read this exerpt from a thoughtful article by DAVID CASSTEVENS in the Star Telegram about the good people in Fort Worth and their work. Congrats Team!!

"The right direction

Typically, nine to 12 men attend the two-hour workouts. Some are more reliable — and trustworthy — than others. One player missed a recent practice because he had reportedly stolen $200 and was in hiding. Wilson wants the others to understand how the wrongful action of one person affects the team.

"I’m not expecting these guys to sing in the choir," he says. "But they need to set some goals, which we help them do. They need to make an effort to do better than they did yesterday."

Two men grew up with both parents in prison. One was adopted at age 5 and then sexually and physically abused. The courts placed him in a foster home. He has turned to the team’s directors for guidance, stability and a sense of security he has never known.

Mark, 35, is already headed in the right direction. Living on his own since he was 13, he has moved from the Presbyterian Night Shelter into an apartment complex and works full time at Patriot House, the night shelter’s home for veterans. His long-time dream is to join the Navy.

"I haven’t missed one practice," he says proudly.

Bryan, 24, found himself on the streets seven months ago after he got into a fight with his stepfather. He left home at 15 and told Gray — "Miss Karla" — that he spent two years at a juvenile detention facility after committing an assault. He said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder but doesn’t take medication.

"I love soccer," Bryan says, beaming. "It helps me get rid of stress. It don’t matter if we win or lose every game. I’m committed to the team."

After Gray counseled him, she wrote down two assignments and placed the folded slip of paper into Bryan’s hand.

"You do these before the next practice, OK?" she said.

Bryan promised to obtain a copy of his birth certificate and get meds at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Spreading the word

Before the homeless men are allowed to compete — they will play an area team Saturday at the practice field one block west of the Presbyterian Night Shelter — each must open a savings account and deposit an agreed-upon sum every month. Gray and Wilson also request that they volunteer at the shelter. In the future, players will be asked to share their stories at churches, schools and civic-group meetings.

As word spreads on the street, Wilson hopes more people will join.

Participation is more unpredictable than the weather.

Recently, a young man from Nigeria appeared at the practice field and stepped off his bicycle.

"What is going on here?" he asked in a clipped accent.

"We’re playing soccer," Gray replied with a welcoming smile. "What’s your name?"


"Hi, James, I’m Karla." She nodded toward the field. "Wanna play?"

The invitation appeared to take him by surprise.

"Are you sure you want me to play?"

"Of course."

James threw back his head, turning his wide grin to the heavens.

"Glory be to God!" he cried.

James happily joined the group of black, Anglo and Hispanic men as they practiced foot drills and kicked the ball into a goal fashioned from plastic pipe and volleyball netting.

Like the World Cup

On the morning of their first game, the coach and directors had no idea how many players would keep their word and meet for the trip to Austin.

Four arrived at the practice field. Then, five others showed up.

They loaded into two vehicles and headed south. A member of Robbins’ church donated $200 to cover expenses for the daylong adventure. In Austin, they ate hamburgers for lunch and then went on a field trip.

"Do you want to put on your jerseys?" Gray asked.

Everyone did. Dressed in matching red and white, the players posed for a group photo and walked wide-eyed around the University of Texas. Most had never set foot on a college campus.

At that moment, this loose bunch of homeless men felt like — and became — a team, the North Texas Stars.

In street soccer, four players on each side compete on a hard surface about the size of a basketball court. The Stars played three games in a church gymnasium against what, for now, is the only other homeless team in Texas. The Stars won all three.

"Some guys were about to pass out," Robbins recalled, smiling at their competitiveness and effort. "They played like this was for the World Cup."

It was after midnight when the team arrived home, tired and happy. Mark was dropped off at his apartment. Others got out at the shelter, where row after row of people lay asleep beneath blankets on the concrete. Three Hispanic players asked to be taken to another location.

The coach thought guiltily about the warmth and comfort of his own bed as the men nodded good night and headed off, on foot, silently disappearing into the night."

--writenn by DAVID CASSTEVENS of the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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