Old Do­min­ion puts on soc­cer clinic to reach out to refugees

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN MUR­PHY

NEW­PORT NEWS, VA. | There’s a wide patch of dirt be­tween two apart­ment buildings in New­port News. At either end, chil­dren have drawn large rec­tan­gles on the red brick in white chalk: soc­cer goals.

It’s what passes for a pitch for the chil­dren here — and it’s still more than many had back home.

Around 95 refugee fam­i­lies live in this apart­ment com­plex in New­port News. On Satur­day morn­ings, Old Do­min­ion Univer­sity men’s soc­cer coach Alan Daw­son and his squad set up cones and roll out balls in the park­ing lot.

“The world’s game,” Mr. Daw­son calls it, in a thick Ir­ish brogue.

The clinic came about af­ter Mr. Daw­son’s wife, Mari, met and started help­ing out a Su­danese woman and her five chil­dren. She told him about the many chil­dren who now call Hamp­ton Roads home even as many of them speak lit­tle to no English.

“We thought it would be a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to bring soc­cer, the world’s game, to help these kids feel con­nected and as­sim­i­late,” Mr. Daw­son said. “Soc­cer tran­scends all lan­guages.”

So they show up, with tiny soc­cer balls and miniature ODU jer­seys.

“They’re pok­ing their heads out and then com­ing run­ning out. We’re hav­ing ev­ery­one go rap on the doors,” he said as a dozen or so col­lege play­ers kicked balls back and forth with twice as many knee-high chil­dren in a roped off area in the cen­ter of the park­ing lot.

Refugee fam­i­lies from ev­ery cor­ner of the globe are liv­ing in this com­plex, ac­cord­ing to prop­erty man­ager Gra­cie Johnson.

They’ve come in waves, of­ten flee­ing hor­rors. Fif­teen years ago, they were mostly from Su­dan, the so-called “Lost Boys,” Ms. Johnson said. Then, it was from In­dia, Bhutan, Nepal. Later, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

For some, the change is a ma­jor shock and the tran­si­tion is very hard, es­pe­cially the lan­guage bar­rier, Mrs. Daw­son said. Soc­cer is one of those things that many have in com­mon — there’s reg­u­larly a half-dozen or more kids kick­ing a ball around in the park­ing lots at the com­plex, res­i­dents said, and those chalk out­line goals were on the walls long be­fore the ODU play­ers showed up.

Former Old Do­min­ion soc­cer player Em­manuel Am­bane Am­bane knows the feel­ing. When he was re­cruited from Cameroon in cen­tral Africa in 2006, he said he didn’t know any English, but that was OK.

“I was com­fort­able be­cause the soc­cer ball doesn’t just speak English,” Mr. Am­bane said.

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