Hundreds of underprivileged athletes flocked to Sacramento this weekend to compete in the Street Soccer USA National Cup at the Old Sacramento Riverfront.
Teams made up of homeless athletes or those suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues came out from 14 cities for the competition, which began at the Capitol on Friday and concluded Sunday afternoon, said Street Soccer USA co-founder Rob Cann.
Eight representatives from social impact programs in each of those cities were chosen to compete at the national cup based on how much personal development they made over the past year, Cann said.
These programs partner with social services and community organizations to get people who previously were unable to play on a team engaged in sports while also focusing on growth and improvement, Cann said.
“These are folks that overcame some of their toughest challenges,” he said, adding that players in the programs engage in academic curriculum and are held to long-term goals that vary depending on their situation.
“For some people, it’s going back to school and getting their GED,” Cann said, but for others it could be staying sober, acquiring housing or being awarded a green card.
Scott Rodd, coach of the Sacramento Mohawks, said that some of the most important lessons taught through street soccer were teamwork, endurance and fair play.
The players from Rodd’s team were selected to compete at the national cup because they had shown the most commitment, some getting jobs or stable housing, or avoiding substances, he said.
The Street Soccer organization brings together homeless and formerly homeless children and adults in an effort to provide an alternative to the pay-to-play model of many other sports leagues and “fight poverty and empower underserved communities through soccer,” according to its website.
Cann said that he and his brother, Lawrence, had their childhood home destroyed by fire. When working in a North Carolina soup kitchen, Cann said, he decided that sports were the best way to build relationships with the troubled youth that visited the kitchen.
Sixteen players were selected after the national cup to head to the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City in November, which Cann said was a chance for players who may have never been able to travel outside of the country.
After one of his players was selected to compete in the world cup, Rodd said it was “hard to overstate just how great an opportunity it is.”