Their Vision, Their Words
How does a dream nudge at your heart and mind long enough to materialize into a plan? And how does that plan become a program ready to make a difference in the lives of African youth?
Cliff McCrath Speaks
Question: Why Soccer Saves? Answer: Why air to breathe? Why water for camels and thirsty desert pilgrims?
I was a foster kid bouncing from one back alley to the other; making some good choices, but mostly bad—out of curiosity and sometimes ignorance! (Like, how did I know that what looked like a spent cartridge from a miniature howitzer was a dynamite cap that, held in one hand and lighted with a stolen match in the other, would take three nimble digits with it and lead to the creation of Uncle Nubby, The Nub, The Rubber Nubber, et al?)
Somewhere along the next segment of the journey, a policeman who was looking for a 'son' to take to a father/son banquet and a pool hall operator named ‘Bev’—who doubled as an all-sports teacher and builder of boys-to-men—managed to corral a seven-fingered kid and teach him some special things about athletic performance and good citizenship.
Now six decades later I can look back on a playing and coaching career that has carried me to most points of the compass. Along the way, I have seen children beset by ignorance, disease, poverty or all of the above. With those observations have come countless opportunities to work with those same children in a variety of programs—some already in place, and some of my own choosing.
I began working in boys and girls clubs in Southside Chicago while I was still in college and as the years rolled on, I either was attracted to similar programs or worked with others to launch such efforts. In 1972 I co-founded Northwest Soccer Camp which has served in the neighborhood of 70,000 boys and girls. Over 7,000 of those kids attended on scholarships made possible by fundraising programs in large part started and fashioned by Soccer Saves co-founder Frank Schott.
I was one of the founders of soccer’s global amputee soccer tournament and served as the founding chair of Soccer in the Streets, a program offering life skills to inner-city youth through soccer. In addition, I have directed goodwill tours for the State Department to Central and South America and led similar tours to the Far East, French Polynesia and Europe.
Perhaps the most gratifying part of this journey is the knowledge that over 150 of my former players are coaching and teaching at one level or the other throughout the world. In short, anything that involves salvaging kids and helping develop healthy lifestyles has my attention! Enter Soccer Saves!
Soccer Saves began as the birth-child of Frank Schott, a Bellevue soccer parent of three and former Microsoft executive. He posed an interesting question: How would I like to multiply 147-fold the impact of Northwest Soccer Camp and the other things I was doing? It clicked!
And now we are not only underway, we’re approaching round-the-clock functioning.
Working relationships are now in place with Save the Children and the Sounders
FC, the latter of which has embraced Soccer Saves as one of their four charities.
I'm ready. Let the adventure begin!
Frank Says A Few Words
The summers of my youth were spent at Bob Houbreg’s Basketball Camp on Whidbey Island just outside of Seattle, Washington. Fast forward 30 years and now my kids are going to the same place for summer camp. Only now it’s Northwest Soccer Camp run by Cliff McCrath.
The smell of the sea breeze. Sounds of coaches shouting encouragement. And kids playing and learning about the game of soccer and about life. Hold that thought.
As the years went by, I got to know Cliff McCrath. First, as a casual acquaintance and then, as a good friend. We talked about how to make the camp affordable to disadvantaged kids. And then over the years, we did something about it with the help of a lot of very generous benefactors. Hold that thought.
The years continue to tick by and my work took me to Africa. During that time I have had the amazing privilege to work with program staff from the world’s largest humanitarian agencies. They were once very regular people like you and me. But now, their life work is to serve those that had the bad luck to be born in a place which had nowhere near the resources that we have come to expect—food, water, shelter, education, health care and, in some cases, the most basic freedoms.
What do I remember after all these trips to Africa? That almost everyone is willing to share anything they have. Almost everyone is remarkably happy. And almost everyone does amazing things when given a chance. Hold THAT thought.
Each time I returned to the United States, I began thinking about how I could do more. I thought back to Camp Casey, the impact that Cliff has had on the lives of many and the children of Africa. And then I began shaping my thoughts about how the game of soccer could be integrated into the heroic work that organizations like Save the Children were already doing in Africa every day.
In early 2005, my now good friend Cliff and I were talking. I told him
when he was ready to do something really big, like help hundreds of thousands
of kids in Africa, he should come see me. The day after Cliff was offered
an opportunity to retire by his former employer, I called him and said, "Now is the time.”
Fortunately for me and for the kids of Africa, Cliff remembered our conversation and said, “Yes, it is!” And that’s how an idea and a mutual passion for soccer and how it can transform kids developed into Soccer Saves.
Today, there are about ONE BILLION TEENAGERS in the world. Almost
90% of them are living in the developing world. Every day teenagers
in Africa struggle with life choices – HIV/AIDS, gender equity, nutrition,
reproductive health and more. Most teenagers get their information
from the communities they live in. The world’s greatest game
can be used to draw teenagers into settings where the humanitarian staff
can do what they do best – reach out to those in need and give them the
knowledge and the tools to grow into healthy, young adults well positioned
to make good choices for years to come—for themselves and ultimately
for their children.