Senior Willie Walker, another one of Blau’s students, admits he isn’t very good at soccer.
“This is just my third time playing soccer,” he said. “But I like playing with the kids. Just pass them the ball and they know what to do.”
Alfonso Hernandez, the assistant teacher at Abbey Court’s after-school program, said the kids look up to the college students because they’re generally good at soccer.
Thawtu Htoo, 12, said he plays soccer every day, but he likes playing Thursday afternoons the best.
“Some of them are really good, and I wish they can teach me,” he said.
One of the “really good” players is Lucas Conway, a member of the UNC club soccer team.
Conway said he’s used to playing competitively but really likes playing with the kids.
Moving beyond the competition, soccer brings people of all different backgrounds together, said John Mulholland, who coaches the children at Abbey Court.
“Soccer is a global language,” he said.
“We have kids that speak different languages playing together, whilst parents from different countries watch with interest and a shared understanding,” Mulholland wrote in an e-mail.
Kids also benefit from the fitness and decision-making skills that develop during a game.
“It takes some of those skills when they are boxed in with the soccer ball and they need to pass it to someone,” Blau said.
It also teaches the kids cooperation and teamwork, she said.
Mulholland and sophomore Carey Averbook are starting a similar program at Rogers Road, a historically black and low-income neighborhood in Chapel Hill, as a part of the nonprofit program Play Street Soccer. The Rogers Road soccer games will happen weekly beginning March 16.
Many of Blau’s students expressed interest in getting involved there.
Blau says she hopes to set up games pitting Abbey Court against Rogers Road to expose the kids to new playmates.
Play Street Soccer’s mission is to bring soccer to communities where many kids can’t travel to club teams.
“It is a community event. It brings communities together,” Mulholland said. “Racism divides. Soccer unites.”
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