The great uniter

It is a perfect, sky-blue morning when I pedal into Ann Morrison Park looking for Boise's annual One World Soccer Camp. Specifically, I'm seeking out Dave Rucklos, volunteer coordinator for the Idaho Rush Soccer Club; Atticus Hoffman, Boise High senior, acute soccer enthusiast and youthful founding father of One World; and Yasmin Aguilar, community resources coordinator for the Agency for New Americans and the one trusted with getting the campers to camp. These three know the stories behind the story of how this four-day soccer camp open to any and all 5- to 18-year-old immigrant children in the Boise area came to be, and what it's all about now.

Rucklos has assured me I won't be able to miss them--in the southwest corner of the park, they'll be 100-plus kids screaming in a dozen languages, kicking, running and laughing across the camp's coned-off fields. And as I coast in past the ticking of sprinklers and beneath the cool canopy of maple trees, sure enough, there they are: huddles of brightly-uniformed children from across the globe—the Congo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Uzbekistan—trapping and heading and passing soccer balls atop the dense green pitch of this park in Boise, Idaho, a long way from where any of them have come from.

Here, below the silhouetted Boise Depot and looming for-lease condos, the youngsters have come to register for four days of soccer playing, where they'll receive T-shirts and equipment, lunch and instruction, friendship and camaraderie and, the organizers hope, a deeper understanding of the "One World" ideal of the camp's moniker.

Hoffman brainstormed and helped create this camp four years ago with the hopes of enhancing the Boise refugee experience. He wanted to bring together and bond these children from distant places and distant lives most of us in Boise can only imagine­—war, famine, genocide, abject poverty. Hoffman felt soccer--an international game—could be the glue, a healing common ground for these disparate lives in this foreign place.

And it has worked. One World Soccer Camp has grown steadily, with more resources—donated cleats, balls, uniforms and time—gathered each year by Rucklos and his volunteers, more children given access to these four days of fun and sport by Aguilar and the Agency for New Americans who shuttle in campers from all over Boise.

Along the periphery I lock up, take a moment to sit, soak some of this in and try for a moment to imagine what it might be like to be this sweaty young forward from Burundi or that tall and concerned keeper from Bhutan. As I do, I'm greeted with a, "'sup" and a high-five by a waist-high African boy. I set my notebook down, smile and say, "'sup" back, slapping his hand as the kid, wearing a Ghana World Cup jersey, dribbles by then joins the game just beyond the bocci courts behind me.

A whistle shrieks and a shaggy-blond counselor shouts directions in a German accent to two dark and lanky boys who listen closely and nod. Small cheers go up from two fields over, where a collection of girls in purple and orange headdresses have just scored a goal on the boys. Across the way, the littlest players take a break, shuffling from their field to seek temporary relief in the shade where there are snacks and icy drinks. On the field just in front of me an argument erupts in broken English. Three yellow-jersied teens have quite specific ideas on how a goal could have been averted, but the German counselor is soon at their sides, slapping shoulders, gesturing to explain just what went wrong and assuring the three that next time they will do better. The boys shake hands, and the game resumes.

It's difficult as I sit amid all this joyful competition, not to think that, yes, sports is the great elixir, soccer most potent of them all, and that yes, we can make the world a better place if we come together on the field, in a stadium, in this park to play, to root and to encourage fair and heartfelt competition. We are, after all, in the rather euphoric afterglow of soccer's World Cup and the barrage of TV commercials assuring us that during World Cup month, soccer would be our peaceful common ground—no weapons or hateful words to override the game.

The games in South Africa, at least from this distant vantage, seemed to--despite some of the inevitable folly of sport—enhance a camaraderie, and an empathy, and the same brand of "brotherhood" Boise's One World Soccer Camp is a microcosm of.

It's reassuring, if a well-used cliche. Yet, who can deny it's a good cliche?

What I get from Hoffman, Aguilar and Rucklos is assurance: Sports and this One World Soccer Camp have brought together so many lives. Aguilar, an Afghan immigrant who has spent 10 years in Boise, tells me how proud she is to see so many Muslim girls in scarves and headdresses on the field this year. She smiles as the girls laugh and run where they have not been allowed to before. She tells me just how good it is to see the families of the girls opening up their spirits, their minds and letting these young women play.

A moment later, Hoffman earnestly tells me about a couple of his campers going on to get college scholarships, about players integrating into local rec and select leagues, and about making his grant-winning video and how I can check it out on YouTube. He tells me about the friends he's made, the way he's going to miss being away from everything here once he heads off for college.

And Rucklos is nothing if not enthusiastic to tell me about the stories of these players and the families who got them here on this sunny Tuesday in August. He shows me the roster, where a kid-named George Bush has signed up to play. He hands me a list of the more than two dozen countries people have come from to seek refuge in Boise. He talks of persecution, ethnic cleansing and war so many of these kids have been touched by. Yet, he cocks his head to say, they made it here today to play some soccer, to get a meal and a T-shirt, to have some fun.

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