June 30, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Grassroot Soccer staff, coaches and participants last week had the honor of meeting First Lady Michelle Obama along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu during Mrs. Obama’s visit to South Africa. The First Lady met with Tommy Clark, M.D., the founder and CEO of Grassroot Soccer. Clark is the eldest son of Notre Dame men’s soccer head coach Bobby Clark.
Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is an international non-governmental organization that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize communities against the spread of HIV. To date, GRS has educated 400,000 young Africans in HIV prevention towards a goal of one million youth by World Cup 2014. As part of her mission to inspire young people, Mrs. Obama paid a special visit to Cape Town Stadium, home of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where she addressed a group of 100 youth and participated in HIV prevention activities led by GRS coaches.
During a briefing with Dr. Clark and Mphakiseng Molefe, Assistant Master Coach, Mrs. Obama and Archbishop Tutu learned about the history and mission of GRS. Mphakiseng told her story of growing up in a risky environment and how GRS enabled her to overcome the challenges she faced as a young South African woman. Her experience with GRS now allows her to teach young people to make the best decisions for their future. She also shared how GRS has given her unique opportunities to become a youth leader in her community.
Mrs. Obama and Archbishop Tutu participated in two Grassroot Soccer Skillz activities designed to teach HIV prevention and life skills to young people. They cheered on the students and dribbled a soccer ball alongside them, demonstrating their enthusiasm for youth education and empowerment.
“Meeting Michelle Obama is a day I’ll never forget,” says Dr. Clark. “There she was – powerful, beautiful, caring – what a role model for the young people in Grassroot Soccer and around the world.”
For the last seven years the Fighting Irish men’s soccer team has held a preseason match to benefit GRS. Donations are collected at the gate and the Notre Dame men’s soccer camp has matched the proceeds dollar-for-dollar.
Notre Dame also has helped GRS by holding a `Lose the Shoes’ 3-on-3 barefoot soccer tournament each of the last two years. In the fall of 2006, Dartmouth College held the first ever `Lose the Shoes’ tournament and since then, over 80 `Lose the Shoes’ tournaments have raised almost $150,000.
The semifinals of Notre Dame’s 2010 `Lose the Shoes’ tournament were held at halftime of the Notre Dame-St. John’s women’s contest, while the title game took place that same day during the intermission of the men’s match against Providence. The preliminary games of the tournament took place on Notre Dame’s South Quad. Notre Dame will hold another `Lose the Shoes’ tournament this fall.
“Soccer can be a great medium by which we can teach young Africans about life skills and how to avoid getting HIV,” says Bobby Clark. “There are many universities that are involved with the cause but we here at Notre Dame would like to be the leading one that helps prevent HIV in Africa.”
The Fighting Irish head coach, who is set to begin his 11th season on the Notre Dame sidelines this fall, is familiar with the areas that are getting hit hard by HIV. Bobby was the Director of Coaching for the Bulawayo Highlanders in the Zimbabwean Super League during the 1983-84 season.
“Tommy was about 13 when I coached in Zimbabwe and after he graduated as an undergraduate from Dartmouth, he went back to Zimbabwe and many of the youngsters that were on his team had died from HIV and I think that made a big impact on him,” states Bobby Clark. “When Tommy went back to medical school at Dartmouth, he was asked to do a project to help the public at large and he conjured up this idea of how soccer could help educate young Africans with life skills. Grassroot Soccer grew out of that. Since it (GRS) has grown so much, he’s not doing as much pediatrics any more, he’s doing a lot of fundraising and a lot of work in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Log onto grassrootsoccer.org for more information on Grassroot Soccer.