Net gains as soccer gives gang youth new goal in life
Businessman ensures it’s a new ball game as warring pupils become teammates on and off the field, writes
SIX YEARS ago, Mitchells Plain youth had little opportunity in the way of sport. Gang violence was rife in the area and it was not uncommon to hear gunshots ring out during the day. But these days, among the loudest sounds likely to be heard in the afternoons are the sounds of boys of all ages undergoing rigorous soccer training.
It was under these conditions that businessman Shamiel Kolbee and his business partners decided to invest some of the profits from their Promenade Shopping Centre development into the community’s high schools. With clothing retailer Mr Price matching their investment, a soccer league, which included the areas’ 16 high schools, was formed.
“Gangs were terrible, the dropout rate was pathetic and you could hear gunshots almost every day. People would keep their kids home from school because they were worried,” Kolbee said.
“That first year was tough,” he added, as gang allegiances played themselves out on the field.
“You could cut the tension with a knife. They were all eyeing each other out.”
But Kolbee said that as the boys began to know each other outside gangs, and earn respect for their soccer instead of their gang activities, friendships started.
“By the third year they were starting to develop friendships.” That year they had to put together a team comprising members from several schools, and gang members found themselves on the same side.
Now, he says, that while there are still problems, gang activity has decreased with soccer taking up more of the boys’ time and the dropout rate has improved. While he says the league can’t take all the credit, Kolbee believes soccer had a role to play. Players in the league are provided with a Mr Price tracksuit in their school colours which they are allowed to wear to school – and it has served as a badge of honour for the wearer.
An independent evaluation of the programme by Corporate and Social Market Research said the tracksuit “leads to intense competition during try-outs every year for the team as almost every boy in the school aspires to wear the tracksuit due to the prestige associated with it”.
Mr Price and Kolbee have also started the Mr Price Academy, where players can hone their skills on top-quality playing fields purpose-built at Westridge High School. The Mr Price Parkhurst team is a semi-professional team where talented players can take their game up a level and the dream is to one day have a Mitchells Plain Premier Soccer League team.
Kolbee says the academy is run by dedicated people, many of whom are volunteers.
Volunteer Anthea van Aarde said that while she had no children of her own, she felt as if she had 320 children in the league.
“These kids have been disappointed their whole life. They just need someone to be there and when they arrive on the field on a Saturday morning and see that there is someone waiting there for them at 6.30, they feel like someone is interested in them,” she said.
Rashieda Cornelius, whose 15year-old son, Ebrahiem Fortuin, plays in the under-15 team, sings the academy’s praises.
“ The first year Ebrahiem spent a lot of time on the bench but I think that that made him realise that if he wants to make the first 11 every week he has to up his game and be more focused,” she said.
She says he has, as a result, overcome his shyness and is doing well at school.
Ebrahiem has won the 2008 Sportsman of the Year and 2009 Player of the Year awards for his efforts in his age group.
A Princeton High school pupil, he says he takes soccer “very seriously”, practising five times a week with matches on Saturdays.
Even Sundays are dedicated to watching soccer. “I eat soccer, I sleep soccer. It’s everything.”
Ebrahiem says he has noticed a change in himself since he started at the academy. “I am not just physically fit, I’m mentally fit too. In school, I think better.”
HEADS UP: Mr Price Academy under-17 coach Marwaan Whisgary runs through drills with his players.
EYE ON THE BALL: Players Uzair Noordien, left, Qaasiem Thorne, Nur Mia and Kauthar Osman, all aged 13, hone their skills on the field.