April 12, 2024, 05:53:49 PM

Author Topic: Youth soccer players from T&T, hosts learn from each other in residency camp  (Read 1147 times)

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Offline Tallman

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Youth soccer players from Trinidad and Tobago, hosts learn from each other in residency camp
By Chris Lillstrung (The News-Herald)

The world's game is unifying in its broader mission.

It is a language understood and sometimes a beacon of hope from the darkness of adversity shared by just about all corners of civilization.

Every so often, those corners are able to meet and soccer takes it from there — even corners 2,500 miles apart.

When they did in one case recently, it allowed for the area soccer community to grow by one honorary member — one that knows all too well the hope the world's game provides.

The boys soccer team from Success Laventille Secondary School made the trek all the way from Trinidad and Tobago, a two-island nation on the southern tip of the Caribbean, to The Soccer Institute in Geauga County's Windsor Township for a week-long residency camp that featured training and friendly matches.

The Soccer Institute is an impressive 75-acre complex that is the brainchild of Mark Mallon, a former Cal-Berkeley and Yale men's head coach who has also become involved in the area youth and high school ranks, most recently taking over the Riverside girls post.

Over the course of several days everyone — from Mallon to his youth program players and their families to the Success Laventille contingent including coaches Kurt Constantine and David Brown and their players — learned something.

"It's been beautiful," Success midfielder Kyle Bailey said. "We have great people around us that make us feel at home."

Added teammate and forward Tacuma Sadlow: "I'm just enjoying myself. The people here are so friendly. It's just a good feeling to be up here."

Good feelings are occasionally difficult to attain under the circumstances presented to the young men who traveled thousands of miles to the rolling hills of Geauga County to refine their soccer skill.

Laventille, which lies east of Trinidad and Tobago capital Port of Spain, is considered one of the most dangerous areas of the country, with gang warfare being especially problematic.

Amid that tough environment, which government and community leaders are working hard on confronting, these soccer players play a big role in presenting their neighborhood in a positive light.

"It's a tough neighborhood, because it has crime in it," Sadlow said. "But talented people come out of there, too."

Success Laventille, which can be seen on a hilltop coming into the community from the capital, has plenty to be proud of as a school, including awards of merit for young leader contests in its country and recognition from Trinidad and Tobago government officials for its ability to reach at-risk youth. It does not lessen, however, the challenges the young people face on a daily basis away from the sport they love.

"I live in the community, and the kids are really, really battling, and there are a lot of elements battling for their attention," said Brown, the team's head coach and a former Trinidad and Tobago senior international player. "There's the drug lords on this side, there's the gangs on this side — and all of them are battling for their attention.

"What we try to do, this trip in itself is one of the avenues they decide to use so we can show them there's a better life through football outside of a gang. You don't have to look at a gang member to be a role model. You don't have to look at a drug lord to achieve this."

Even the daily morning trip to school can't be taken for granted.

"Even though they are good kids, they find the area and the environment in which they live totally at a disadvantage," Constantine said. "There will be gun shots. There will be police. Sometimes they can't study at night because they have to be up at night.

"Sometimes they have to leave in the morning at a particular time to come to school and cannot return home at that time because, ‘Hey, you can't go up there at that time.' Even the taxis they take, they have to go in a specific one, or if they go in another one and they go in a different area, they are beaten. Yes, it's a challenge."

A challenge that is helped by the universal bond of soccer.

Trinidad and Tobago features a five-zone, 32-team "premier league" for boys high school soccer, one which has produced some of the country's biggest soccer stars such as striker Kenwyne Jones, who plays for Stoke City in the English Premier League. Success Laventille was in that league as recently as 2000, but was relegated to a lower division and has been trying to work its way back since.

"Success is one of the only schools that does not have a football field of its own," Constantine said. "The area designated for that was taken over by villagers. They just moved in, set up shop and live there, so we have no playing ground whatsoever. There's only two schools in Trinidad that fall under that category. Incidentally, we are one."

As a result, Success players practice in a local park in Laventille called Queen's Park Savannah. Space is at a premium, as the team contends with locals for space to have a full field — and even a full field is not a given.

After connecting with Mallon and making the trip to The Soccer Institute a reality through fund-raising and assists from their school with money and their country's embassy with flights, finding a full field to work on and fine-tune their craft has not been an issue.

"It's been a good experience," Success goalkeeper Aaron Enill said. "We've come here to have fun, meet new friends and play football.

"It gives me a lot of hope. If I'm angry, I go play football. That's my answer."

Their excitement to get started was obvious. Mallon told the story with a smile of how the team reached the secluded facility around 9 p.m. their first night after a long flight and car ride and immediately wanted to play a game in their bare feet on the Institute's indoor field.

"I said, ‘You know? This doesn't happen in America.' " Mallon said. "That's what I like is the passion people bring from other countries. We've learned a lot, and they've learned a lot. It's the world's game.

"If they've got a bucket list, you figure they've checked a few things off. If I went to Trinidad, they were like, ‘Hey you come to Trinidad, and we will take care of you.' It's great to be able to know you can go all over the world and soccer is a great icebreaker and it forges friendships and relationships."

Along with hope.

"There's a court by my house," Bailey said. "I gather round the kids and we come out and play every day. Sometimes I train them. Sometimes we play. On weekends we play a little match in my neighborhood. All the kids like soccer — kids like 3 years old come out in soccer boots and are kicking the ball really hard.

"Football opens people's eyes to life. Someone may be homeless, but they could play soccer very well. They have the intelligence to play soccer. They have the ability to play, and they reach very far."

Even as far away as Geauga County from Trinidad and Tobago.

For themselves, for the pride of their community, for their school and for showing the broader mission of the world's game.

"It's very important, because I think people will have a different perception of us," Sadlow said. "They'll look at us differently. We are 2,500 miles from home. It's just a great experience being here.

"I hope one day I could become a professional footballer. For now, this is my team. I think there's a lot of children in my home of Trinidad that has my dreams also. Football gives hope to all of us."

Front row (from left): Tacuma Sadlow, Kyle Bailey and Aaron Enill

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The Conquering Lion of Judah shall break every chain.

Offline asylumseeker

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Where did these players end up?

Offline Tallman

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Aaron Enill - Was on our U-23 squad for this year’s Pan Am games. Was with Jabloteh, now with Defence Force.
Tacuma Sadlow - At one point was playing for Jabloteh’s youth team
The Conquering Lion of Judah shall break every chain.


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