Soccer tourney benefited fight against African AIDS

MIDDLEBURY — A Sunday soccer tournament created by a Middlebury teen raised $1,499.50 for Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in Africa.
Organizer Kelsey Smith, 14, herself an active and accomplished player in the sport, said the first of what she hopes will become an annual “Midd For Kids” event was a success, especially with the late addition of adult teams to the Fucile Field event pushing the tally higher.
“It went really well. We had a great turnout, 16 teams,” Smith said.
The format pitted three-member teams against one another in a round-robin format, with the top two teams in each age bracket advancing to a title match. Members of four middle-school age teams, eight high school teams and four adult teams paid $20 apiece for what Smith said was intended to be an enjoyable experience more than a competitive one — the teams policed themselves, with no referees.
She had planned for just youth teams, but next year organizers will also promote the tournament more heavily to local adult players. Smith also believes the tournament could also be more successful if it is scheduled around end-of-the-summer championship swim meets. On this past weekend many young local athletes competed in the Vermont Swim Association’s state title meet.
Next summer Smith said she will probably aim for one weekend later, just before the local high schools begin fall practices.
“A lot of people seem to be home right before preseason,” she said.
For a first-year event, Smith was happy with the proceeds for Grassroot Soccer, which was founded in 2002 by pediatrician Tommy Clark, Ethan Zohn (of TV’s “Survivor” show), Kirk Friedrich and Methembe Ndlovu, captain of the Zimbabwean National soccer team, 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. 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 badly needed. Those statistics, which date back to 2008, show that:
•  33 million men, women, and children worldwide 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.
Smith’s interest in the issue grew when she learned some of the alarming African HIV/AID statistics, a continent she and her family visited about three years ago.
Given the ongoing need and Midd for Kids’ promising start, Smith said she and her fellow organizers did not hesitate after Sunday in looking toward next summer.
“We decided we want to do it again,” Smith said. “We raised a lot of money for the organization.”

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