Soccer raises money for Grassroot Soccer

Photo courtesy of John O’Connor
John O’Connor and his son pose with Methembe Ndlovu.

The Castleton men’s soccer program is getting ready to put on its 6th annual Grassroot Soccer 3v3 Pick Up Benefit Soccer Tournament. The event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 27 at Dave Wolk Stadium with check in starting at noon and games kicking off at 1 p.m.

According to its website, Grassroot Soccer is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.

Head coach John O’Connor has been involved with Grassroot Soccer since his days at Dartmouth College, where he was an assistant coach from 1990 to 1995.

“We had a player from Zimbabwe at that time, his name was Methembe Ndlovu … We had brought him over to the U.S. through my old boss’ son,” he said.

O’Connor’s old boss’ son is Tommy Clark, who is the founder and CEO of Grassroot Soccer. Clark met Ndlovu while playing soccer in Zimbabwe for their professional league.

O’Connor said that Clark had told his father to find a way to bring Ndlovu over to the states.

Clark graduated from medical school and Ndlovu finished his four years at Dartmouth, and the two went back to Zimbabwe. In the time Clark spent in the United States, O’Connor says that four or five of his old teammates had died due to HIV or AIDS-related illnesses.

“They decided to start this grassroot education program where they would go into the townships around Bulawayo and they would basically use the game of soccer to teach kids abstinence, healthy living, things like that,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor says that ever since then, the organization has, “exploded” into an international operation.

O’Connor set up fundraisers to raise money for Grassroot Soccer while he was the head coach for the University of Rhode Island. Once he came to Castleton, he started the fund-raising tournament.

Former Castleton soccer player and current graduate assistant coach Tom Kirk was a part of the event all four years under O’Connor.

“I just love the atmosphere the event brings each year,” Kirk said. “Our team is always there interacting with the kids, and it makes for some laughs and smiles each year.”

O’Connor thought back to previous years and talked about how the team gets involved each year.

“They make it really fun … when they get into the playoffs the guys really get into it. They adopt a team almost,” he said.

This will be Kirk’s first year being a part of the fund-raiser as a coach, and the experience has already been different compared to the previous ones.

“I’ve been involved in the organization of the event and some of the behind the scenes work. There’s a lot that goes into planning events like these, which has been cool to learn about,” he said.

The tournament has four different age groups you can sign up for. They have one for grades four through six, seven through eight, nine through twelve, and one for adults.

Although majority of the teams that sign up are for the younger age groups, senior Meranda Allen is interested in potentially participating in the event this year.

“I played soccer at my previous college but haven’t done much here. It’d be fun to get back into playing and it’s for a great cause so that’s a bonus,” she said.

O’Connor said that the most they have made through the fundraiser is, “almost $3,000.” The amount includes the funds they receive through the selling of t-shirts at the game that is in conjunction with the tournament.

This year, the game at which they will be selling t-shirts is on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Dave Wolk Stadium where they will be playing Plymouth St. at 1 p.m.

Signups for the tournament are still going on from now until Friday, Oct. 25. The cost is $50 per team for teams of five. 

If you would like to donate to the cause but are unable to make the game or sign up for the tournament visit to donate and learn more.

“I’m just glad that we’re able to do something,” O’Connor said.

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