Back in my college days, I remember watching an Oklahoma State Baseball game (go Pokes!) with my friend Casey and just talking about nothing. At one point we got on the topic of US Men’s soccer (football) and how we need to step up our game, especially in light of the fact that football is played everywhere in the world.  Rambling on and lost on a random train of thought, I jokingly said that someday the world would settle territorial battles in international football games and we were going to lose badly.  Casey laughed knowing it was a joke but the couple in front of us turned around to rightfully look at me like I was a crazy person.  Fast forward ten years and it seems that soccer as a diplomacy tool is not necessarily far fetched, though admittedly not in the dramatic form I prophesized.

After this year’s divisive election and events that followed, I felt that I needed to reach out to the communities who were living with abuse and fear to let them know that they had support. I wanted to do something that would show them not everyone is against them.  I also wanted to show those who were bullying them, through votes, comments, or hate crimes, that immigrants and refugees are our neighbors and friends. I wanted to form relationships in the community that would nullify the fears of people from different backgrounds. Naturally, I turned to my go to: sports.  More specifically, I turned to soccer.

Through a relatively short planning process, I landed on the idea of forming a volunteer soccer academy for young immigrant and refugee boys and girls.  Designing the program centered on building a community where these kids learn their worth through their own accomplishments and through a community that believes in their potential and supports them as they pursue it.

Support pours in at every step of the planning process.  Coaches readily volunteer their time and creative energy in creating our West Lexington United football team.  Community programs have offered up financial resources so that families can afford for their kids to play. Churches offer volunteers and transportation. A local artist even created a logo to give the team a sense of identity and pride.

As busy as preparation for this project is, it is easy to get wrapped up in logistics, but every now in then I get a little reminder of what it all could mean for the community and what it already means that so many are rallying around it.  When donald’s announcements about refugee bans and about the wall came out last week it showed the powerful real world forces we are working to counteract.  When a whole church full of people chanted “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” I felt the importance of our support for these populations.  Even Madam Secretary this week highlighted the possibility of what coming together for a kick around can symbolize for a movement.

Though this academy is not about me and my needs, words cannot express the comfort and love I feel when I see it coming together.  This is a small thing.  We are teaching kids to play a game.  However, its effects and possibilities are immeasurable.  We do not have the power of a supreme court decision or an executive action, but we are changing hearts and minds.  We are making a difference.

If you would like to support or follow this team, please email me at stephalovely@gmail.com, and I will make sure that you can be involved.