Old Dominion puts on soccer clinic to reach out to refugees
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.