They called him, “Captain America.”
Street Soccer 945 player, Thomas Yon, stood proud in a patriotic jersey, branded with the infamous star-centered shield as he defended the goal for the United States at the 13th Annual Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam two weeks ago. Thomas joined eight other U.S. team members, both male and female, at this eight day, international tournament to get a glimpse of what Olympians experience every four years: the chance to play the sport they love in an overflowing stadium, while capturing the undivided attention from thousands of spirited fans.
The Homeless World Cup is about so much more than glory, though. For many of the 500+ participating athletes, the trip to Amsterdam marked their first time traveling outside of their home countries, an honor and privilege they fought to earn. And this was exactly the case for Thomas and the United States team.
The journey began back in the depot building of the Urban Ministry Center, where Charlotte’s Street Soccer 945 program is located. Street Soccer 945 is an outreach program that aims to use soccer as a catalyst for social change, by addressing the issues of homelessness and promoting healthy lifestyles among our players. Throughout the year, Director Pete Fink works one-on-one with players to improve their circumstances, help them meet their goals, and prepare them for the Street Soccer USA National Tournament at the end of the summer.
This year, the Street Soccer USA National Tournament was held in San Francisco, CA on the lawn of the city’s famous Civic Center. At the event, sixteen cities across the nation, with programs similar to ours, competed for the title of Social Change Cup Champion. The teams also had the opportunity to interact with local corporate sponsors, share their stories with peers from similar walks of life, and even shake the hand of United States Men’s National Team Member, Chris Wondolowski.
Street Soccer 945 took six deserving individuals to San Francisco. The team performed exceptionally well, not just in a matter of wins and losses, but also by their display of team camaraderie and good sportsmanship throughout the weekend. Consequently (and for the first time ever), Charlotte walked away as winner of the Fair Play Award, the tournament’s most esteemed honor, awarded to the team that best embodied the Street Soccer spirit. Go 945!
We are also proud to announce that Street Soccer 945 had two players selected for the National Team. Thomas and Will were inspiring to watch throughout the weekend as they competed for their spot against fifteen other nominees. During this effort, Thomas was honored with an individual award entitled the “Play with Heart Award.” Play with Heart is a Street Soccer USA curriculum theme centered on the understanding that an individual’s motivation, passion, and intention are intrinsic qualities displayed through the way one cares for their teammates and for themselves. Thomas exemplified this definition better than any other player at the tournament that weekend. He pushed his body to capacity game after game, making huge saves as goalkeeper of our team, and somehow still made the effort to put his team ahead of himself. Not to mention his suave ability to make friends with fellow players, coaches, referees, volunteers, and sponsors alike.
As a special treat before Thomas and Will took off for Amsterdam, we arranged for the entire team to be honored at halftime of the Charlotte Independence’s final home match of the season. Not only was this a fantastic send-off and an incredible honor, it was also an amazing opportunity for the local soccer community to acknowledge the bravery, courage, and resilience within our players. So thank you to the Independence and thank you to everyone who came to support us!
The finale to this wild ride was the Homeless World Cup itself. To be honest, this event is difficult to describe. Imagine stepping foot onto a field in one of the world’s most amazing cities, in front of several of the world’s most famous tourist attractions (the I amsterdam sign, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum), and playing to represent a cause that this year engaged over 78,300,000 people worldwide. As a spectator, I can say the most humbling thing to remember about an event like this is that the issue of homelessness knows no political or cultural boundaries. There are several universal experiences that resonate with participants from every corner of our world, but during the tournament’s eight day stretch, all eyes were on these brave athletes. Huffington Post journalist, Kim Samuel, said it well, “Whether they are victims of civil strife, natural disaster, economic hardship, domestic violence, or substance abuse, all of the players participating in the Homeless World Cup have struggled with exclusion, with isolation, and with invisibility. The Cup turns this on its head and makes them the stars of the show.”
Street Soccer USA—www.streetsoccerusa.org
Homeless World Cup—www.homelessworldcup.org
For more information on Street Soccer 945, please contact Pete Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org.