Neighborhood children learn life lessons through soccer
by Dustin Brady

(Plain Press, August 2006) Italy won the 2006 World Cup twice in less than a week. The first time was at a packed Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Sunday, July 9. Two billion people across the world watched Italy take home what some consider the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

The second time was on Saturday, July 15 in front of a decidedly smaller crowd behind Luis Munoz Middle School. 350 Cleveland parents and neighbors watched their 5 to 14-year-old children play in the Ambassadors in Sports World Cup. The Italian Blue Herons beat the English Woodpeckers in a spectacular 1-0 win. The game capped off a week that saw coaches from all over the world come together to teach inner city children soccer skills and life lessons.

Ambassadors in Sports is a Christian organization that hosts soccer camps across the United States. From July 11-July 15, they joined forces with Scranton Road Bible Church to teach 119 Cleveland children positive lessons through soccer. They had plenty of teaching to do.

“A lot of the kids don’t even know what a soccer ball is when they start,” Scranton Road Bible Church member Jack Shearer said.

Misty Rice, who was in charge of camp registration, agreed. “A lot of the kids, especially the younger ones, wanted to pick up the ball and run with it,” she said.

Starting Tuesday morning, coaches taught basic soccer rules and skills. For the next four days, they split into 13 teams to run drills and scrimmage. From 9:30 to 3:30 every day, each coach was able to share his international soccer experience and stories with the 10 kids on his team. The week culminated with a World Cup tournament on Saturday that showcased the children’s new skills.  

More important to the camp’s organizers, though, were the spiritual life lessons that the children learned throughout the week. Coaches held daily devotional meetings with themes such as obedience and sportsmanship. During one meeting, Alistair White, an Irish coach, held up a flat soccer ball. “You can play soccer with a flat ball,” he said, “but not very well.” He went on to explain that the children could not live life to its fullest potential until they let Christ fill their lives. Campers learned Bible verses throughout the week, and by Friday they were able to quote Matthew 7:7-8.

The pastor at Scranton Road said that one of the highlights of the week for him was to see the cooperation and camaraderie of all the coaches. Coaches literally came from around the globe; from Guatemala, Ireland and Holland to Portland and Pittsburgh. Many of the 16 coaches had already played semi-pro soccer and were coming to America as missionaries.

Jack and Jan Shearer hosted one such coach, Roy Wijanarko, at their house for the week. This was Wijanarko’s first visit to America. “He must have taken a hundred pictures throughout the week,” Jack said. “We took him to see the Cleveland skyline and Browns Stadium. He especially wanted to see the ‘Great Lake.’” Wijanarko left his wife and two children behind in Indonesia for the summer so he could help American children through soccer.

Scranton Road church members also made sacrifices to host the camp. Usually the Ambassador camps cost each camper between $120 and $200 for the week. The church wanted to make tuition affordable for inner city kids, so along with several other churches, they donated enough money to reduce tuition to $20 per child and $30 per family.

Was it all worth it? Rice thinks so. “It was just a lot of fun for me,” she said. “It was really nice to see the kids smiling and encouraging each other for a week.”


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