The “perfect storm”
Sometimes something as simple as a text message can change your life. Alex Daley ’12 received this text message in November 2011:
“Do you think it’s possible to dribble a soccer ball across the United States?”
That question stuck with Daley, and while he can’t answer the question – yet – he now knows the challenge it would entail. On Tuesday, June 18, Daley, Matt Scott ’12 and Tommy Hanlon, friends since their Eagan High School days, completed a border-to-border, soccer-ball dribbling journey that started on Sunday, May 26, in International Falls, Minn., and finished on the Minnesota-Iowa border near Preston, Minn., a journey of more than 400 miles which spanned the globe and last January spawned a nonprofit – Dribble Daily.
And it all began with what Daley described as an “out-of-the-blue” question via text message from Trevor Flaten ’12.
“That’s why it was so cool,” Daley said in a recent interview. “It was just out of the blue. I played soccer my whole life. I played at St. Thomas. I never thought of something like this – dribbling across Minnesota or the country. So when I received the message it just sparked something in me.”
That text message led to a conversation with Scott, whose passion is environmental science. Together they combined their skills and their passions and developed an idea of transforming urban decay in inner cities through soccer pitches and urban gardens – and bringing people together through, as Daley described it: the “power of the ball” – a soccer ball.
“It really was the perfect storm because Alex was inspired by our friend with this idea about soccer, and I had spent years studying environmental science here at St. Thomas, and I learned so much about these issues we’re dealing with – sustainability and our decaying urban culture, urban sprawl and the problems with it – and so I was really passionate about implementing this knowledge that I had gained here and doing something really good with it,” Scott said. “This is a very new thing. And so I wanted to create something like this, and when Alex came along with this idea of soccer it really was the perfect storm. … We can address these issues of urban sustainability. We can address the issues of civic pride. We can address the issues of obesity.”
“We both believe that soccer can be a real tool for social change, specifically here in the United States, which is the melting pot of the world,” Daley added.
St. Thomas Futbol Club
Both have traveled and studied abroad and have experienced what it is like to be the outsider.
“For the first time in my life, I was like a foreign person. I didn’t have my network of friends, and I didn’t know anybody,” Scott said. “I learned firsthand what it meant to be accepted into a community or a school, into a network of people who are completely different from you and how much that experience meant to me having nothing. And when I came back to St. Thomas I had a better understanding of what the foreign students were going through here.”
In talking about their plans for Dribble Daily, here at St. Thomas they focused on the gap between international and domestic students.
“When you are in the student center, you notice the international students kind of stick to themselves and the domestic students kind of stick to themselves. That’s not good. That’s not productive,” Daley said. “What will unite all of us? A simple thing like a soccer ball was the answer. So we started the University of St. Thomas Futbol Club.”
Founded in spring 2012, the club has more than 150 active members and played “futbol” twice a week, watched games at Scooter’s, and participated in other activities.
“The relationships that were formed on the field were carried over off the field. We realized, it’s simple but it’s very effective, and so we wanted to translate that on a more macroeconomic level out to cities like Minneapolis and urban communities,” Daley said.
Through the club Daley and Scott met Miraz Abdullah, an international student from Bangladesh. He invited them to Bangladesh, which enabled them to film and document the way that the ball can break down social barriers, and which also led to Dribble Daily’s first project – a soccer pitch in Nepal.
After visiting the Abdullah family in Bangladesh for two months, Daley and Scott left for Nepal to renew their visas.
“When we were there we were almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and the hospitality of the people,” Scott said. And they scouted out areas to build a soccer pitch for kids.
“They have nothing there. It’s like a concrete maze everywhere. Kids don’t have any place to play,” Scott added.
They literally stumbled upon a school (Great Compassion Boarding School, run by donations) in the village of Pokhara, which happened to have an area that could be transformed into a soccer pitch.
Funded by donations, they bought nets, goal posts, chalk and a ball, all of which had to be hand-carried halfway up a mountain. Leveling the pitch by hand, with children helping by tossing rocks, the project took about a week.
“We just started building it, and the kids from the school came out and helped us, and the teachers came and helped us. It was a total community-driven development project. By putting in their own blood, sweat and tears into it, people have more pride for what they have. It couldn’t have gone better. We were really happy that we were able to leave them something, and we know that they truly appreciated it,” Scott said.
The story behind the story
While Daley’s feat (feet?) of dribbling a soccer ball border to border, with some assistance from Scott and mutual friend, navigator and driver Hanlon, is significant and newsworthy in itself, the real story, as is often the case, is the story behind the story.
“The project is really to raise awareness, and I think we’re all very satisfied with all of the awareness we were able to receive through news reporting and television reporting,” Scott said.
“We’re trying to address physical health, environmental health and mental health with something as simple as this green recreational space that we are trying to put in. We are trying to take dead space and give life to it. A soccer field serves as that common ground to bring neighbors in diverse urban communities together around a mutual passion,” Scott explained. “You know, how are you going to get this Ethiopian guy and this Latino guy with this Asian woman together? They understand soccer; it’s part of their cultures. It’s about providing people with space in our diverse urban areas to bring them together to do some outdoor recreation with soccer. That will start to break down those social barriers.”
“Why urban gardens? It doesn’t get talked about very much that we want to add these gardens, but it’s a very important factor,” Scott continued.
Scott pointed out that “in Minneapolis we actually have the fifth largest food desert in the country,” with little access to healthy, organic, affordable food, that nationally childhood obesity and diabetes rates have increased dramatically over the past 30 years.
“So by providing people with space to garden, we’re going to be empowering people to grow their own food and to eat healthier and ultimately live better lives. … A lot of people are just trapped in their urban setting, in their apartments, and so by providing them an outdoor space to grow and to play, we think that it’s going to do a tremendous good for the community as a whole,” Scott said.
“A number of studies, including one by the National Council for Science and the Environment, show how the addition of green space in urban settings increases surrounding property values. So everybody wins, and it’s as simple as a soccer field and growing food,” he added.
Dribbling a soccer ball some 20 miles a days has taken a physical toll on Daley, and there were times when Scott and Hanlon were called on to dribble so he could rest and recover. Then there were times that they were chased by dogs, spotted bear tracks outside their tent, had “so many ticks you can’t count them,” rained on almost every day, slept in a tent most nights, and showered in cold rivers.
But the journey has not been without its rewards. Some people slow down and honk, wave, and ask what they are doing, support and encourage them, and some have even taken them in for the night. And they’ve come to appreciate even more the beauty of Minnesota and the freedom of living in America.
“The highlight has been interacting with people and breaking down those barriers through something like a ball. They see the ball and they wonder what you’re doing, and that’s really the big picture – getting to know your neighbors, and creating a stronger sense of community,” Scott said.
Dribble across America
That November 2011 text message has not been forgotten or cast aside despite the rigors of dribbling across Minnesota. Daley and Scott envision, perhaps, something akin to an Olympic torch-style relay across America, involving local communities and soccer clubs along the way.
They are looking for support from the soccer community, individual donors and corporations, and they hope the University of St. Thomas will support them as well as they live out its mission to be “morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.”
“People have been very responsive to the social message,” Scott said. “What we’re hearing from people is that, yeah, we are a nation that is now divided. We used to have something that we would unite behind in generations past, but now we don’t know where the country’s going. Everybody agrees that something needs to be done and not very many people have an answer to what needs to be done. But people collectively believe that we need to come together and rally around something.”
Dribble Daily believes in unity through the “power of the ball.”
“We’re very appreciative of everyone who has helped us in our ventures in Asia and in the United States. It is only through their support that we’re able to positively impact communities and change lives of people with our efforts,” Daley remarked. “We look forward to continuing to work with individuals, communities and business alike in future endeavors. Soccer is a tool for social change, and together we can make that happen.”
Editor’s note: Additional videos and photographs are available on the Dribble Daily website.