CH soccer player's trip sparks philanthropic alliance
When 12-year-old Nate Ford arrived in Roatan, Honduras, in March, he was looking forward to a brief respite from the Cleveland winter. Ford, from Cleveland Heights, figured he’d spend a lot of time swimming, snorkeling and exploring this Caribbean island, about 40 miles off the coast of the mainland. Little did he know that a chance encounter in a remote Honduran village would spark an idea for philanthropy, close to his heart.
During a cultural tour of the island, Ford visited Crawfish Rock and was introduced to groups of Honduran children by Denise Mazu of Clearwater Adventures. He had the opportunity to see their school, share a meal in a local family’s home, and learn about the challenges many of these kids face.
Ford noticed the kids playing soccer on a makeshift field, mostly barefoot with limited equipment. “Soccer’s kind of my thing,” Ford said, “and when I saw kids my age playing the game without adequate equipment, it got me thinking.”
Soccer is certainly Ford’s “thing.” He has been playing competitively since he was 5. He began in the Cleveland Heights Recreation League, transitioned to Cleveland Heights-based Eastside Kickers Travel League, and has been playing for Ohio Premier Futbol Club (OPFC) since 2015. Through OPFC, Ford plays in the Great Lakes Alliance (GLA), where kids compete at the highest youth level.
According to OPFC Director of Coaching Dennis Weyn, “What sets OPFC apart from most other local soccer clubs is our commitment to being family friendly, financially accessible, and culturally and socio-economically diverse." With this in mind, Ford and his parents knew the club would be open to an idea inspired by his spring break adventure.
Project Pitbull officially launched in April. Working with Mazu, Ford and his family formed a partnership with OPFC and the Crawfish Rock soccer club, Pitbull Futbol. Ford hopes to collect enough gear—including balls, cleats and jerseys—to outfit all the village children.
So far, the response from OPFC families has been overwhelming, and Ford has collected more than 100 pairs of cleats.
By collecting and redistributing soccer equipment, Ford and the OPFC community will be able to recycle gear and enrich the lives of children who love the game of soccer. The Honduran club currently has two teams supported solely by donations of cleats, balls and other equipment.
Mazu, who organized the Honduran club, has a few simple goals: "More than anything, I want these kids to develop a strong sense of discipline and always give 100 percent effort as they develop into accomplished futbol players."
According to Cleveland Heights resident Paul Eyre, current OPFC coach and former Heights High Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ Soccer head coach, “This initiative will be a continuing effort to expand OPFC’s commitment to building strong soccer communities and to encourage our players to have a more global understanding of the power of futbol.”
“Remember, one soccer ball or pair of cleats can change the life of a child," said Ford.
If you have new or gently used soccer gear and want to contribute to this effort, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosie Ford, Nate's proud mom, is a longtime Cleveland Heights resident (since 2004) and soccer enthusiast.