Community Pitch

For African refugees, soccer is more than just a game.

"I came down to Commerce City and met with some of the coaches of the Hispanic teams there and saw that they were dirt-poor teams with no resources, but that the kids played from the heart," Evans remembers. "They played great soccer; they just couldn't afford access to the better fields and facilities."

Through his work, Evans organized scholarships for about thirty inner-city Hispanic girls to come play with the indoor league. "I felt proud of myself," he says. "I was excited. I couldn't wait for my kids to be playing with their kids, each learning something different about the game from one another. And then game day came around, and no one showed up. It wasn't a cost issue; it was a matter of Mom and Dad working on Sunday mornings. There was no transportation, no help for these kids to get to the games. I realized then I was going to have to think about this a little more."

Evans had been doing a lot of volunteer work with Cranberg's education initiatives, particularly the Alliance for Choice in Education, the program that in 2004 promised college scholarships to 550 Horace Mann middle-school students upon completion of high school and, more recently, distributed $1.7 million in scholarship money to 800 Denver children so that they could attend the private school of their choice. "I was fascinated watching this whole thing going on," Evans remembers. "What impressed me most was how enabling it all was." He wondered if the same principles couldn't be applied to soccer. He was tired of going to his daughters' tournaments, looking out over a sprawling soccer complex of twenty fields and seeing only two black kids, maybe one Hispanic kid.

Out of Africa: Head coach Daniel Smith (left) has overseen the team's growth from informal kick-abouts to a partnership with Hugh Evans (right) and the Colorado Clash.
Mark Manger
Out of Africa: Head coach Daniel Smith (left) has overseen the team's growth from informal kick-abouts to a partnership with Hugh Evans (right) and the Colorado Clash.
Here's the pitch: The team prepares for a scrimmage outside Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Mark Manger
Here's the pitch: The team prepares for a scrimmage outside Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

"I couldn't shake the feeling that the kids who live and breathe this game were not out there," he says. "They were being priced out. In the rest of the world, most of the best players are the incredibly poor kids, the players who are pulled out of the barrios and favelas. I just thought, how many kids are we missing here?"

He talked to Cranberg about starting a soccer club that would give underprivileged kids access to better soccer, a club that would eventually cultivate top-notch soccer teams to rival the suburban powerhouses but would also focus on developing players off the field. He wanted to create a club like those in other parts of the world, where soccer is viewed as an entry point into other things, including education, health care and community spirit. And Cranberg gave Evans the go-ahead, agreeing to keep him on the payroll — Evans is supposed to help with technology when he can — while giving him the time to operate the Colorado Clash as a philanthropic endeavor backed by Aspect.

One of Evans's first moves was to hire Marc Francis, an Australian who's the former director of coaching for the Colorado Storm and has coached around Denver for a dozen years. Francis liked Evans's vision.

"If you look at soccer all over the world, apart from the United States, it's a lower-income, working-class sport," Francis explains. "South America, Africa, Asia, even in Europe. Because all you need is something that resembles a ball and you can play. But in this country, it's developed into an upper-middle-class sport, and there are kids, great players, who are missing the opportunity because of the way it's funded and structured. And these are kids who need soccer in their lives. That's where I want to help. I'm more interested in making them better people than better soccer players. The reality is that very few people ever make it professionally, but if you can instill some values and self-discipline, then you can help them in their lives."

Earlier this year, while the Clash was awaiting certification by the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association, Evans and Francis went to Belize and, through a partnership with the Football Federation of Belize and Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA, soccer's world governing body), put on a coaching clinic with about a hundred kids and 22 coaches. For Evans, it was a way to get to know his new coaching director while also testing his vision for the Clash. Once back in Denver, he pursued that plan in earnest. While Francis has been training new coaches and conducting camps, Evans has been recruiting and incorporating Hispanic teams from Commerce City into the Clash.

And then last month, he formed a partnership with Daniel Smith to support the African Community Center soccer team.

"Daniel's a super, super guy," Evans says. "We hit it off right away because he was trying to do with his team exactly what we're trying to do with the Clash: use soccer as a vehicle for other things — education, integration, learning about different cultures through the game. And he's an interesting combination of energy and entrepreneurial spirit. He's looking for opportunities all the time. How can we integrate? How can we do more for these kids? He's all about meeting new people, getting new groups together. As opposed to questioning how everything is going to be done, his attitude is 'Let's just do this.'"

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