After eight long hours on a bumpy bus ride, fifteen Shanghai American School high schoolers (Shelly H., Juho S., Narelle S., Samantha T., Angela L., Emily X., Yuka K., Young in K., Jeff J., Alex Z., Annie X., Ted C., Daniel K., David F., Frank Y.) and three chaperones (Meg J., Sean M., Josh E.) tumble out of the vehicle to be greeted by the smiling faces of ChaShui school's soccer team.
It's the perfect way to start off the first day of the Youth Spotlight Soccer Tournament. Suddenly reinvigorated by the energy of the ChaShui team, the Youth Spotlight (YSL) crew run into QianShanTeJiao school, where a game between PaiLou and KaiFaQuZhongXin is near its end. Parents and teachers sit at the edge of their seats whilst they watch the game. A few are standing tensely at the side-lines with crossed arms and competitive gleams to their enraptured gazes. Without another moment's hesitation, the YSL coaches (Juho, YoungIn, Jeff, Ted, Daniel, David) change into their bright yellow uniforms and referee the next game. The others immediately get to work documenting the teams. YSL is on a mission photographing and reporting on each of the eight teams currently under the club's charter. Anticipate the fruits of the reporting team's (Yuka, Annie, Narelle, Samantha, Alex, Frank) labor soon!
Some faces are familiar in the eight teams present. Most of the coaches had participated in the YSL trip to the TianZhuShan school in the summer of 2017. “That's our school!” Jeff J. exclaims, pointing out the blue-and-white-striped uniformed team. The rest of the coaches nod in agreement, pointing out the kids they remember. It's heart-warming to see the deep impact the TianZhuShan players have left on the YSL members.
Time passes when you're having fun. Players wearing all sorts of colored jerseys run around with endless energy, practicing passing and dribbling on the concrete surrounding the school field when their teams aren't playing. Some coaches even join in on the fun. There's no sense of discomfort or unfamiliarity between the players and the YSL members; in fact, they all seem to communicate using the common language of soccer.“I think that's the beauty of Youth Spotlight,” Narelle comments during a break. “You can really see the bond between the kids and the coaches, even if they can't speak to each other.” And it's true. The players have no issue running up to the YSL crew and attempting to make conversation with them. Many if not all of these children have been left-behind by their migrant worker parents. Research has shown that left-behind children are usually less socially-adept, outgoing, and confident than their peers who have actively-involved parents. That's why it's so touching to see this bond form between the players and their teammates, as well as with the YSL members.
In the blink of an eye, the afternoon becomes night. The last game ends 3-0 with the HuangPuZhongXin school emerging as victors.
“The day ended too quickly,” the members complain, trudging back into the bus. That's alright-- we have a full day ahead tomorrow!
2017 YOUTH SPOTLIGHT CUP: DAY 2
It's 8:15 am. A cool morning breeze blows through the QianShanTeJiao field. Teams are beginning to arrive, squeezing a little bit of practice into their schedules before the opening ceremony and tournament ensue.
The coaches, Young in K., Jeff J., Ted C., Daniel K., and David F., play alongside the members that have arrived and teach them a few last-minute pointers. Everyone is in high spirits. Shelly H., a senior at Shanghai American School and president of Youth Spotlight (YSL), seems to be a little nervous. Juho S., a coach and the director of YSL, is frantically practicing his Chinese pronunciation. The two of them are due to speak at the opening ceremony of Youth Spotlight's Soccer Tournament. Yesterday, eight teams fought for seeding positions. Today, each team will play against three other teams, and the winner moves onto finals against the team from the other pool.
An announcement is made. The ceremony has begun. One-by-one, the eight teams run out with their captains waving their school flag in the front. The principal of QianShanTeJiao speaks on behalf of all the schools and thanks YSL with utmost gratitude. Looking at all of the soccer players wearing new uniforms, matching cleats, and wide grins, there is no doubt about the positive change YSL has brought to these left-behind children. Shelly and Juho commence the official start to the tournament, and like an army of ants, the YSL crew gets down to business. Much like yesterday, the coaches take turns refereeing and the reporters (Yuka K., Annie X., Narelle S., Samantha T., Alex Z., Frank Y.) film and photograph each match.
The first few games go by in a blur, except for the moments where a player is doing something extraordinary. The YSL team is keeping an eye out for acts of sportsmanship. The most sportsmanlike players receive medals and the most valuable players and the most well-rounded players (both determined by local coaches) receive plaques. Teams who place first, second, or third receive trophies and medals.
When asked by a China Daily reporter why the club put in so much money and effort into this tournament and the eight teams in attendance, YSL vice president Ted Chang says it perfectly. “I think these children deserve it. They work so hard and so well. They really love soccer. Putting this tournament together was Youth Spotlight's way of thanking them for taking a chance with us and rewarding all their hard work.
The placings for the semifinals and finals are determined right before everyone disbanded for a lunch break. HuangPuZhongXin elementary is to play QianShuiKaiFaQu in semifinals and QianShuiKaiFaQu elementary is to play ZhangFaShanZhongXin elementary in finals. Lunch time marks the transition from the chilly morning air to the blazing heat of the afternoon. All the teams are playing exceptionally well considering the weather and the fact that they've been playing the entire day.