Teen plans soccer tourney to raise AIDS awareness in Africa
MIDDLEBURY — Kelsey Smith has gotten a kick out of soccer ever since she was 5 years old. Now 14 and a standout player, Smith has decided to put her favorite sport to use to help save the lives of young people on the other side of the globe.
Smith is organizing an Aug. 5 soccer tournament in Middlebury that will raise money for AIDS and HIV awareness programs for youths in Africa.
The three-on-three tourney at Fucile Field off Creek Road features a $20-per-player entry fee (includes shirt), with proceeds going to Grassroot Soccer, an organization that “uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV,” the virus that causes AIDS. Young African participants in the Grassroot program meet to play their favorite sport, but also partake in an HIV prevention and life-skills curriculum.
United Nations statistics for AIDS and HIV show that more prevention education is sorely needed. Those statistics, which date back to 2008, show that:
• 33 million men, women, and children are infected with HIV.
• 2.7 million became newly infected in 2007 (roughly 7.400 every day).
• 45 percent of all new infections occur among 15-to-24-year-olds.
• Fewer than 40 percent of young people have comprehensive HIV/AIDS knowledge.
• 67 percent of people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Pediatrician Tommy Clark, Ethan Zohn (of TV’s “Survivor” show), Kirk Friedrich and Methembe Ndlovu, captain of the Zimbabwean National soccer team, launched Grassroot Soccer back in 2002 with assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All four founders played professional soccer in Africa.
Grassroot Soccer’s goal is to educate a million youths in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness by 2014, when the next World Cup soccer tournament will take place. It’s a lofty goal, and one that will take a lot of resources to pay for education materials. That’s where Smith comes in. She hopes to raise $2,000 through her Aug. 5 “Midd for Kids” tournament. That sum would allow Grassroot Soccer to educate 80 youths ($25 per youth) in HIV/AIDS prevention.
Smith got wind of Grassroot Soccer from her dad, Scott, and learned of a local contact: Jen Clark, brother of program co-founder Tommy Clark and an assistant coach of the Middlebury College women’s soccer team.
Smith’s interest in helping grew when she learned some of the alarming HIV/AID statistics coming out of Africa, a continent she and her family visited around three years ago. While there, she donated some soccer balls and training shirts from Far Post Soccer, the club she plays on in Essex.
“It was a great eye-opening experience,” she said of the trip to Africa, during which she saw young players kicking around plastic bags wrapped in twine.
But she realized that beyond the fun and games her African peers were facing a serious health threat.
“Around 2,500 kids per day are diagnosed with the HIV infection,” she said. “(Grassroot) wants to get the information out before anything can happen and try to prevent (further cases) from happening.”
She explained that in spite of the epidemic in Africa, schools are not aggressively teaching HIV/AIDS prevention and health education.
“It is just not in their education, their society or community,” Smith said.
Scott Smith agreed.
“I think one of the experiences of the co-founders was that they had teammates who died from this disease, and even at their funerals, HIV or AID wasn’t talked about, they just called it the ‘weakness plague,’ or something like that,” Scott said. “There was not an openness about it.”
Kelsey Smith’s Midd for Kids tournament is open to middle schoolers (grades 6 through 8) and high schoolers (grades 9 through 12), who will play in separate brackets.
“It’s a great thing, because you don’t need 11 to play on the field,” Smith said.
Fucile Field and surrounding fields will be divided into four smaller soccer pitches that will allow four, three-on-three matches to go on simultaneously. Each team is guaranteed at least three, 20- or 25-minute matches. The top teams move on to an elimination tournament to decide the eventual champions in each bracket.
Smith is hoping the event will draw a total of 16 teams, with eight in each bracket. She has sent e-mails to friends, family and many youth soccer organizations to encourage participation. Teams may register at www.grassrootsoccer.org/tournament-calendar. Registration closes July 29. More information is available from Smith at [email protected]
There will be no refs; after all, it won’t be a high-stakes tourney.
“It’s supposed to be a fun thing,” Smith said. “You don’t want it to be super, super competitive.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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