Charlotte Urban Eagles Invade Charleston!
(This story is written by Stephen Jackson, neigborhood leader and head coach for the Birchroft Urban Eagles - located in Charlotte, NC)

Last weekend the U-18 club soccer team from Birchcroft went down to Charleston, SC for their first out of state tournament!  To say that it was an absolute blast would be an understatement!  It is difficult to put into words what God did on this trip, but I will try my best. 

 

This season we have a unique team.  There are 9 or so players from the Urban Eagles neighborhood of Birchcroft and then 9 or so players from Charlotte who grew up here in the US.  That gives us an incredible diversity of backgrounds, nationalities, languages, etc.  We actually have over 8 high schools and over 6 countries represented on our team.  So, going into the start of the season we actually planned this Charleston tournament as a time to get the team away for some team bonding and to use the trip as a springboard for the rest of the season.  Again, to say the team bonded is an understatement!  The relationships that had been built already between teammates were deepened and the boys fellowshipped together over meals and especially during late night shenanigans including jumping into the freezing cold ocean water at 11pm!

The coaching staff, Stephen, Mike, and Phil decided to go after a "testimony" theme and throughout the weekend each coach and also our team manager gave their personal testimonies of how God has transformed their lives.  We were praying God would use our stories to encourage our boys that their stories are powerful and that God can transform anyone's life if you open up to Him.  Our prayers were answered the first night after the first testimony when one of the players came up and said he wanted to share his!

 

On the soccer side, we played in a very competitive division and came out with 2 losses (2-1 and 3-1) and a 0-0 tie.  The boys played fantastic and showed themselves well against some strong opposition.  We as coaches have been preaching to the team all season long so far that there is so much more to the game than just winning and focusing on soccer.  That there is joy to be found in playing, that our team can become a family where we give up our lives for each other, that true friendships can be formed when you share life together.  I would say our boys experienced all of those over the weekend and soccer truly did take a back seat.

Urban Eagles represent the USA in Brazil!
 

Four members of the Charlotte Eagles’ Grier Heights Urban Eagles program have been given an amazing opportunity to represent the United States at the Street Child World Cup(SCWC). They were chosen by Street Soccer USA  to be a part the US Boys' Soccer Team. Deron, Ryan, Jah'Quel, Tyree, and Urban Eagles' Leader Ben Page left for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last Friday and will be participating in all the events and games until the conclusion of the SCWC on April 6th.  An article about the boys was featured on the front page of the Charlotte Observer. The on-line version can be found here.​
 
Follow along on-line with Street Soccer USA on Facebook and Twitter for updates and pictures.

 

Thanks to their prowess on the soccer field and hard work in the classroom, four Grier Heights teenagers are getting the chance of a lifetime this week in Brazil.

Photo Credit: David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Deron, Jah'Quel, Tyree, Ryan
Photo Credit: David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
 

Myers Park High students Deron Huggins, Ryan Chambers, Jah’Quel Williams and Tyree Watson are playing for the United States team in the Street Child World Cup soccer tournament in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. team got off to a good start Sunday, beating India 8-1.

The Street Child World Cup is for kids who live in poverty or are homeless. Some teams are made up of refugees. The tournament is played every four years in the same country as the FIFA World Cup, which is coming to Brazil this summer.

Charlotte’s World Cup-bound players all live in or near Grier Heights, a predominately black, low-income community about 3 miles from Myers Park. But their soccer skills aren’t the only reason they were chosen to play in the World Cup: they are strong students (Chambers is a sophomore, the others are freshmen), each taking honors courses and making all As and Bs.

So it is an opportunity, yes. But it’s also a somewhat intimidating challenge for four kids who are relatively new to soccer and have grown up poor and, in some cases, broken homes.

“I’m excited about the competition, but I’m kind of afraid of it, too,” said Huggins. “There are going to be a lot of good players there.”

The four came together through the Urban Eagles, an outreach ministry for underprivileged kids sponsored by the Charlotte Eagles pro soccer team. They’re playing this spring on an Eagles-sponsored under-18 team in a Charlotte-area youth league.

 

“More than the soccer, they were selected because of the kinds of kids they are, the kinds of leaders they have become,” said their coach, Ben Page, a former Eagles player who runs the Urban Eagles’ Grier Heights program and has lived in the neighborhood for four years. “This will further set them apart, and I mean that in a good way.

“It’s going to help identify themselves as somebody who’s different. They’re doing something they didn’t think is possible. That’s the dream of every kid.”

Playing for Page, 28, is demanding. Missing practice without prior approval isn’t acceptable. Each player must have passing grades in school, or there will be consequences.

Two years ago, Page’s team finished its regular season undefeated in Matthews’ SOAR league. But several players weren’t making passing grades.

After practice on the eve of the playoffs, Page told the team the season was over, since there weren’t enough players with passing grades to field a team. Many players sat there, stunned. Others ran off in tears.

“We were all upset,” said Williams, who was on the team with the three other World Cup players. “But you learn later on that it’s about the team. It showed that everybody has to do their part, whether it’s on or off the field.”

One year later, the Eagles team won the league championship.

“It was a difficult lesson, but we’re not a charity,” said Page, who accompanied the players to Brazil. “It seems like everything on this planet that’s set up for kids like this is a charity. We don’t do anything to make it seem like a charity.”

The players traveled to Brazil on Friday, their first time on an airplane. They spent the weekend practicing and attending opening ceremonies.

 

The U.S. team – which also includes players from Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Chicago – is in a group with India, Kenya, Mauritius and Pakistan. Through soccer, the 19-nation tournament will focus attention on the world’s disadvantaged children. The event has some big-time spokesmen: soccer superstar David Beckham, former Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Huggins has lived in Grier Heights since he was 9. A year later, he went to his first Eagles soccer camp.

“I love the freedom of soccer,” said Huggins. “I like the peace and quiet that I get when I have the ball at my feet. It calms me down.”

Watson, a goalkeeper, has played soccer since he was 6 and he made Myers Park’s junior varsity team in 2013. He has never traveled farther than Florida.

“I was thinking it was some kind of a joke when they told me I would be on (the World Cup) team,” he said. “That’s because we play a lot with each other on this team. Then Coach called me. I still couldn’t believe it.”

Williams recently moved from High Point to Charlotte, where he first started playing soccer. He’s quickly caught on to the sport and said he thrives under the structure given to him by soccer and his studies.

“My time schedule is this,” Williams said. “Go to school for 8 1/2 hours. Then soccer. Then homework. Then sleep. Then the next day you do it all over again.”

Before Myers Park, Chambers attended Smith Language Academy. He speaks French fluently.

“Brazil is a really nice country; I’m looking forward to this,” he said. “Some people never get the opportunity that I’m getting.”


[UPDATE: 4/10/14] Sports Illustrated posted an article on their website on 4/10/14 detailing the Street Child World Cup. The following is an excerpt from the article. The rest of the article can be found here.

"The USA's representation included a boys team featuring players from Charlotte, Chicago, and Minnesota. The team is part of the nationwide Street Soccer USA organization, which operates in 16 cities and uses soccer to reach out to young people from poor backgrounds facing challenges such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction of parents and a lack of stable housing.

One of the difficulties the U.S. team had to overcome was how to blend boys from three different cities, the majority of whom were meeting for the first time at the tournament, into a team.

"We told them that after watching them on the pitch we knew they were talented players, and that by talent alone they could probably do well and win a few games, but if they were willing to trust each other, and play with respect for each other, then they could accomplish something really special," says Rob Cann, team coach and co-founder of Street Soccer USA.

And they almost did exactly that. The U.S. team was one of the most impressive sides in the early stages of the competition, scoring 23 goals and conceding only four in its opening five games, with talented strike pairing Isrrael Rivera and Ulises Juarez particularly impressive. The fairy tale run came to an abrupt halt in the semifinals, however, when Team USA was thumped 6-1 by eventual winner Tanzania."

[UPDATE 4/22/14] Silent Images travelled to Brazil with the boys team and captured the whole experience on film. You can watch the video here.

 

Urban Eagles Birchcroft Girls
Stephen and Heather Jackson have been living in the Birchcroft neighborhood of Charlotte for 4+ years building relationships with the refugee families there.  Stephen shares about an exciting development in the neighborhood below:

Friday, March 7th was a historic day in the life of Urban Eagles in Birchcroft.  For the past year the girls in the neighborhood have desired a soccer team of their own. They have watched as their brothers have gone off to play in games over the weekend, watched them play, and seen them come home with jerseys, cleats, shin-guards, etc.  But now they won't just be watching!  

This Spring the girls will move from the sidelines and onto the field!  Heather decided the time was right to start the girls’ team last Fall, but just started with weekly practices to see if the girls could handle it and truly be committed.  They proved they could do it, so this Spring Birchcroft is entering a U-12 girls’ team in the SOAR recreational league in partnership with Christ Covenant Church.  Come on!

God has provided in so many way to make this happen!  First off, Heather could not do it all by herself, - - especially with a toddler and another on the way! So we prayed and asked the Lord to send help!  Our God answers prayer!  

Two girls who tried-out for the Lady Eagles in December heard about the opportunity and need for coaches for the Birchcroft girls team and decided they wanted to help!  Arielle and Rachel are now assisting Heather which is a huge answer to prayer! They make an awesome team together! 

God also used Arielle to bring about another huge blessing!  One of Arielle's friends heard about the girls’ team and asked her if the girls had cleats.  Arielle said she didn't think so (which was correct, none of the girls have ever owned their own pair of soccer cleats) and her friend said he wanted to buy all the girls BRAND NEW CLEATS from Dick's Sporting Goods!  What?!?!  Amazing!  So coming full circle to the beginning of the story, Friday March 7th, the girls team took a trip to Dick's to get their new cleats. 

Urban Eagles Camp featured on local Charlotte news station.

FOX 46 Charlotte

 
 
Local news station, FOX 46 Carolinas, came out to the Charlotte Urban Eagles' Soccer Camp for a story. The following is taken from their site FOUND HERE.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO

Charlotte Eagles Host Sports Ministry Camp

As the United States prepared to take on Belgium in the World Cup Tuesday afternoon, the "United States" took on the "Netherlands" on the Siskey YMCA's pitch. The game was part of the Charlotte Eagles' Urban Eagles camp, a program that combines soccer with ministry. 

"It's a place where boys can come and be part of sports teams where they are able to connect with coaches and form mentoring relationships year round," Assistant Coach Ben Gates said. 

Many of the kids in the camp are refugees or live in rough neighborhoods. But because of Coach Ben, soccer is their common language. 

"He kept me out of trouble," Malik President, a camper, said. "I used to get suspended a lot." 

"Where I live there's a lot of gangs, fighting and crime," CJ Jackson, a camper, said. "Coach Ben keeps me out of trouble. I am not going to jail or hanging out with the wrong people." 

Coach Ben gives the campers a different path, a chance for kids to grow both in soccer and spiritually. 

"The kids know that as coaches we are not just in their lives to teach them soccer and win games," Gates said. "We want them to step into the destinies that we believe God has for them."

The Charlotte Eagles are coaching kids to become men, both on and off the field. 

CHICAGO: Urban Eagles Update!
Editor's Note:  The MAI Chicago office operates an Urban Eagles program in West Chicago that reaches approximately 30 boys and 20 girls.  Our Chicago Urban Eagles leader, Cody Snouffer, provides a quick update below.

I don't know if there is anything better than being a kid in a community with all your best friends, warm days, no school, perpetual access to the ice-cream truck, and the World Cup!

It could get better if your Urban Eagle soccer team has made it to the semi-finals of the league that began back in April! Which is the exact scenario of all 3 Chicago Urban Eagles teams! U12 Boys, U14 Boys, and U14 Lady Eagles all made it to their tournament semi-finals, with the Lady Eagles finishing runner up in the tournament (which was their first official competition ever)! 

The growth we have seen in our 50 combined players has been tremendous not only athletically but spiritually as well! Our teams spent the spring/summer season walking through M.A.I.'s Sports Ministry Training handbook, focusing on what it means to have a healthy, Christ-centered team culture, and how that culture can impact your friends, family, and community! When our teams aren't practicing or watching the World Cup, the coaches have been seeking out select players for discipleship, often bringing them to whatever Summer Academy (Chicago Eagles collegiate athlete focused ministry) activity is going on that day: team worship and Bible study, practice, matches, or camp.

The end of July featured the Eagle Soccer Camp which was a special "collision of worlds" as the neighborhood youth we've been coaching and discipling all year received love and excellent coaching from Academy members that we have been mentoring since the start of June! Over 250 campers attended camp, with 73 of those coming from our neighborhood. Each summer at camp, numerous Urban Eagles welcome Christ into their life at camp, and each summer more and more Academy members are stirred and called to sports ministry.

It's been an awesome summer here in the neighborhood! We are praying for another great school year of ministry with our Urban Eagles teams!