The U.S. may not have made it to the World Cup this year, but nine DC high schoolers did. The students — all of whom have experienced or been at risk for homelessness — were honored by the DC Council last week for their participation in the 2018 Street Child World Cup in Russia.
The teens are all alums of DC SCORES, a group that creates neighborhood soccer teams that give kids in need the confidence and skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom, and in life, said Michael Holstein, DC SCORES’ director of marketing and communications.
DC SCORES will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2019. It has served over 20,000 low-income DC children since 1994 and is the flagship affiliate of America SCORES, which operates in 12 cities and serves 15,000 at-risk youth annually.
The group operates school- and team-based services for third- through eighth-graders free after school and at summer camps. Facilitated by trained youth-development professionals, the overall offerings integrate soccer, poetry and service-learning to help low-income students throughout the city. DC SCORES prides itself on helping students achieve physical fitness, find their voices, improve their literacy, increase school engagement and strengthen ties to their community, Holstein said.
Members of the all-female team that went to Russia range in age from 14 to 17. They were the first U.S. team ever to participate in the international competition, which has taken place twice before — in South Africa in 2010 and again in Brazil in 2014.
“The team’s participation was made possible by the National Network for Youth, which was looking for a ‘Team USA,’” Holstein said. “All the girls on the team are DC SCORES alums and continue to play soccer together through Open Goal Project, a fiscally sponsored project of DC SCORES.”
D.C. United and Adidas provided gear for the team including warm-up gear, new shoes, practice jerseys, shin guards and gear bags.
The group traveled to Moscow in May for the event, which sought to highlight the plight of homeless and economically disadvantaged children worldwide.
“It was fantastic to have the USA girls with us in Moscow,” said John Wroe, co-founder and CEO of Street Child United. Street Child United is a UK charity that uses the power of sports, specifically international athletic events, to change the perception of street-connected kids everywhere, according to the group’s website.
“They brought bags of enthusiasm, and it was great to see them making friends with young people from across the world,” Wroe added.
While the Brazilian girls’ team ultimately won, Holstein said the DC team’s adventure — which included a 4-1 win over Mexico — was especially riveting because the members have all overcome myriad obstacles.
“They’re remarkable girls — poised, wise beyond their years, and exemplary both on and off the pitch,” Holstein said.
The teens’ biggest takeaway was experiencing a new and unique culture. Trying to communicate despite language barriers was also a challenge, Holstein added, as many have never left the DC area.
Before the tournament, rising senior Kalkidan Haile told ABC 7 she was looking forward to “the different cultures and the mix of that and the vibes” at the overseas tournament. “I think it’s going to be amazing, and I cannot wait,” she told the station.
Holstein praised the girls for their poise while traveling abroad. “It was an exciting, sometimes scary, but ultimately amazing experience,” he said. “They all handled it like the superstars and inspirations they are.”
During their time in Russia, the World Cup participants attended peer-to-peer events, forums, and presentations. The featured speakers included soccer players, coaches and community leaders.
At-large DC Council member David Grosso and his colleagues have long supported DC SCORES. Legislators approved a ceremonial resolution honoring the team on June 5, and Grosso presented the proclamation to the students at last Tuesday’s meeting. Holstein called the event “inspirational and motivational.”
Jessica Cecilia Amaya-Zuniga, a rising senior at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, spoke on behalf of the team at Tuesday’s presentation. “We just want to take this opportunity to say thank-you,” she told the council members. “It’s an amazing experience. We all had so much fun. We learned the language of Russian.”
In brief remarks, Grosso said he was “incredibly proud” of the way the team represented the city and country. An excerpt from the council proclamation reads: “Whereas, the players having all overcome economic challenges and triumphed in the face of adversity, are role models for the residents of the District of Columbia.”
This isn’t the end of the accolades for the team members. They are looking forward to being honored at the United Nations in July. In the fall, D.C. United will host DC SCORES’ “One Night One Goal” event at Audi Field.
To learn more about DC SCORES, visit dcscores.org.