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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - BIANCA CAPAZORIO

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.

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