Monday, September 28, 2009

Layla House Teachers vs. Kids Soccer Game

This blog post was submitted by Garret VanSwearingen, a current volunteer at Layla House.

I didn’t really believe the altitude here in Addis made that much of a difference until the New Years Eve Teachers vs. Kids soccer match last Friday.

The lunch table that day was buzzing with the children’s excitement. They had put in their final hours of schooling for the year that morning, and were anticipating the well-earned afternoon entertainment. These kids live for soccer, with dreams of the premier league and the juggling skills of American high school stars, there was no doubt that the teachers were in for a long afternoon. That’s when I started hearing it over and over again…
“Garr-et which team you playing for? Teachers or kids?”

My friend Colin and I had taken a liking to playing scrimmage on the walled concrete field with the older boys…after all, getting worked by 14 year old kids with C. Ronaldo style dribbling skills can make for a pretty good time. I hadn’t really thought about which team we would be on yet though. The children begged for us to play on their team, but we’re not exactly 14 anymore and our roles as “volunteers” have some very teacher-esk qualities. Darn…instead of taking the easy road of letting the kids do all the work, it looked like we’d have to defend against these miniature Ronaldinho’s.

With our relaxed afternoon plans gone, we figured if we were going to help the underdog teachers it would be an all out effort. I inhaled my lunch of injera, lentils and shiro and went in search of a proper uniform. One of the rising Layla futbol stars, Bogali, ushered me into his room, excited to get me proper socks and a jersey. With my new kit on, I headed to the concrete field and met up with the rest of the teachers warming up.

The kids loved seeing all the teachers ditch their dress pants and button up shirts for shorts that were clearly too small (thanks stockroom) and matching red soccer jerseys (donated by Alemeyehu Bates – Arizona). Only the older boys would be playing in our 6 on 6 format, but that didn’t seem to matter to the growing crowd of children all clearly having a fantastic time singing and chanting on the overlooking steps. Many of them had even managed to find drums and other instruments.

It was almost time for the match to begin so our band of teachers had a pre game pow-wow to discuss strategy. The kids love to dribble and showcase their extensive sets of moves, but aren’t particularly great at passing, so we decided that marking the stars heavily would be our best bet. The young teachers (aka great footballers), Colin, and myself each took a dangerous kid to mark and we were set. Go time.

The principle, Berhanu, led the coin flip--advantage going to the teachers who decided to kick off first. After a brief period of possession, the kids got a hold of the ball and quickly knocked off 3 or 4 goals. This was looking harder than even I had expected. Time to step the game up. We substituted a few players and with 3 of the big dogs in, a weak side shooting strategy, and the intensity cranked up we came back with some serious momentum. In our pre game huddle we had decided to celebrate to a laughably exuberant level and everyone was loving it. The rivalry escalated, and each time the kids would score a wave of screaming children swept onto the field. I was quickly figuring out that as soon as the ball landed at the kids’ feet we had to be there defending. Letting them get more than one touch to settle the ball was a bad idea, but applying swift pressure worked
like a charm…after all, no dribbling tricks when they haven’t yet gained control.

Our keeper was making some incredible saves considering the close and trick-laden style the kids used to get to our goal. The brother combo on our team of Galeta – an Ethiopian volunteer, and his brother Gutu – the music and “family” teacher were also racking up some hefty scoring totals. All told, we were holding our own. Barely. Unfortunately we had to keep doing so for a full 90 minute game, and the burning in my lungs wasn’t going away any time soon (remember that little bit about the altitude? Oh yeah…). All of a sudden I looked down and saw my left wrist covered in blood. Shoot, this really wasn’t a good time. I pretended not to notice so I could stay in, but Berhanu’s sharp eyes as ref caught it and he sent me off to get myself fixed. That in addition with the substitution of some of our less… youthful… players left us in a bit of hole at the end of the half. Chickarellum (no problem) everyone was having fun.

The second half story was pretty much the same as the first half – 45 minutes of the teachers barely holding onto to the rising goal tally of the children. By the end of the period everyone was clearly feeling the exhaustion. Berhanu made a point of sounding the final whistle while the score was tied (17 to 17), a smart move so neither side has taunting power over the other.
All told it was amazing to see how much excitement and joy a simple soccer match brought to all the children of Layla. As a westerner it was a little weird to celebrate two New Years in one year (especially 2002 occurring in September) but I’ll never forget the burning lungs, screams of excitement, and smiling faces that the 2002 New Years Eve soccer match provided.

1 comment:

  1. What a great description of the match! I felt nearly breathless reading it (from both the running and the memories of the high altitude!).
    Let's hear more stories from more volunteers.
    Rosemary McAlister...Weyessa & Masho's mom