Wednesday, March 06, 2013
- by Sarah Foley, director of Communications for Chattanooga Football Club Academy
The vision and mission for ChattanoogaFC Academy is to “foster a stronger community in Chattanooga by building relationships through the sport of soccer, the world’s game. Working alongside the Chattanooga community, we serve all youth, regardless of race, creed or socioeconomic background – creating progressive and innovative opportunities for them to grow and excel in soccer skills, in the delight of play, in the discipline of team work, and in the benefits of dedication to the sport.”
In the summer of 2012, Chattanooga FC offered tryouts for the first fall season of their newly-developed select soccer club, ChattanoogaFC Academy. Over 500 children showed up.
Two of the boys who were part of this number were Joseph and Godfred Collins. These two boys were like many of the other boys their age in their excitement for playing for the new select club and were ready to play the world’s game. Their difference from the other boys trying out was in the long journey that actually brought them to Chattanooga.
Joseph and Godfred, along with their younger brother Philip, were adopted from an orphanage in Ghana by Kathleen Collins. Ms. Collins and her husband, along with their own children, adopted this family of three boys and later returned to Ghana to adopt the boys' friend, Clinton. The challenges and tortures these boys had endured before they had ended up in the orphanage are unimaginable. At that point in their lives, soccer was not a sport but a way to survive. Godfred, the oldest of the three boys, never had a chance to be a child that could play and laugh and kick the soccer ball in the backyard. Instead, Godfred had to take on the responsibility of raising his two younger brothers. His goal was simple but painful. It was do what was needed to keep the two younger boys alive.
Godfred had endured a horrible stabbing at the hands of his own father. He took his two younger brothers away from their father – the man that was supposed to protect them – when the stabbings also included Joseph and the youngest, Philip. At the age of seven, Godfred would be paid by older men to play soccer with other adults. He would be paid with money sometimes, but most of the time would be given food for his younger brothers if he played the game well. Godfred was ordered to run fast and play the game aggressively. If the men did not feel that Godfred was running fast enough, hot oil would be poured on him to encourage him to do better. Godfred to this day still has horrible scars and burns on his back and arms from this form of torture. Godfred would play the game to his best potential and fear that if he did not please the other men, Joseph and Philip would go hungry.
The boys’ grandmother for a short period of time tried to take care of the children. However, her need to survive and find work caused the children to be left alone for lengthy stretches of time. When she had to leave the children to find work, she would force the boys to lie down in a hole that she had dug. With only a tarp to cover the boys, Godfred would rarely use the protection electing to have his brothers use the covering. As a result, Godfred contracted malaria.
The boys ended up in a orphanage and Godfred being the oldest and biggest would be asked to serve food for all the other children. He would only be allowed to eat any left over food if there was any left after all were served. When he landed for the first time in the USA, Godfred and his brothers were emaciated.
To protect them from the violence of their father, Godfred took his brothers, Joseph and Philip, and fled. In caring for his brothers, Godfred would often go without food.
Ms. Collins says that the boys were malnourished and had had no strong level of education before they left Ghana. They were immediately put on vitamins and entered school here. Ms. Collins had to determine what level of education that both boys could handle to help their self esteem. She said, “Godfred will say I have shamed you mom, because I cannot read.” She feels that it is the time in which he steps on the soccer field that Godfred comes alive.
The boys’ lives drastically changed once they arrived in Chattanooga. Godfred befriended a boy in his school named Dylan Zeller. The two boys became strong friends running cross country together. The boys started kicking the soccer ball around at school as well and eventually the boys from Ghana were introduced to Dylan’s dad, Chris Zeller. Mr. Zeller is an established soccer coach and player in both Texas and Tennessee and he quickly saw the pure athleticism of both Joseph and Godfred. He encouraged them to start playing soccer with him and for the first time the world’s game was not about survival, but enjoyment.
Now the boys have become part of a strong Chattanooga FC Academy U12 boys team coached by Mr. Zeller, and he has become more than a coach for all the boys. Recently, Joseph had to make a decision for a class report on two heroes in his life. He chose Jesus as one and Coach Chris as the other.
The experience of soccer has made a great impact on these boys. Their adopted mom, Ms. Collins, claims that the team has become “soccer family.” The team has been impacted as well by the presence of Joseph and Godfred. Both Joseph and Godfred are strong soccer players but have had to work hard to learn the techniques of the sport. They show up at practices ready to learn, and never complain about conditions. Clinton, the older friend from the orphanage comes to practice with the team even though he has to play on a much older team. The teammates respect the boys and feel that they are a huge motivating part of the team.
Unfortunately, the team has come across resentment from out of town opponents on occasion. Ms. Collins says that at games she has heard other parents questioning Godfred’s age because of his size and physical play. At one match, parents on the other team were yelling to pull Godfred out of the game. The boy from Ghana came off the pitch stating to his coach, “Coach Chris I have shamed you because I have not played enough.” Ms. Collins has said that people will state that her boys play on the team where the coach recruits from Africa. She was told once by an angry parent on the opposing team that she was sure that Ms. Collins had picked these boys to adopt because she knew they were great soccer players. The Collins family has had to let many comments roll off their shoulders but at times it is hard. She wants people to truly get to know Godfred because of his gentle soul who has only learned to play fiercely because of the need to protect his brothers.
Coach Chris has had to teach the boys many things. He had to teach them to tie their shoes because they had never owned a pair of cleats, but he says that is the easy stuff. He says that the hardest part is to teach the brothers that they will not be punished if they lose or if he has to redirect or coach them. When the boys eat at his house, Coach Chris has to tell them repeatedly that it is ok to ask for more food. He has to remind Godfred that he is just a child and teammate to the others. Godfred, who had to endure many hardships due to being the oldest of the boys, still takes on a protective role with his teammates.
Ms. Collins says,“That he had to act as the father of the boys and is still learning how to be just a child now. On many occasions, Godfred will miss the school bus home because he is sharpening pencils or sweeping the cafeteria floor. He still believes that he has to work for his education.”
The experience of soccer has maade a great impact on the boys. The team has become their "soccer family."
In many ways, soccer and the American experience has transformed the lives of these boys . ChattanoogaFC Academy and the world’s game have contributed to the enrichment of these boys lives and soccer has become the bond that links Joseph, Godfred, Philip, and even Clinton, with others.
However, an equally important part of this story is how much these boys have impacted many others. Soccer – and especially select soccer – can be competitive and demanding, all about trophies and awards, helicopter parents and inflated egos. The Collins boys teach about the true nature of the game. These boys don’t care about how many goals they score or in what divisional level their team competes, but simply playing the game to the fullest potential. They come together to put their feet to a ball and enjoy the world’s sport. They come for love of the game.
The Boys - Keaton, Phillip, Joseph, Dylan, & Godfred