Sports

Young soccer players get a lesson in philanthropy

Aubrey, left, and Ainsly Mackenzie of Poulsbo show off some of the soccer cleats they’ve collected from friends. The siblings have a donation box set up at The Zone Sportsplex in Poulsbo and are accepting cleats and other soccer equipment to send to children in Soweto, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg. - Brian J. Olson/Staff photo
Aubrey, left, and Ainsly Mackenzie of Poulsbo show off some of the soccer cleats they’ve collected from friends. The siblings have a donation box set up at The Zone Sportsplex in Poulsbo and are accepting cleats and other soccer equipment to send to children in Soweto, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

POULSBO — A pair of soccer-playing middle schoolers are getting an early lesson in international humanitarian work.

Aubrey and Ainsly Mackenzie of Poulsbo are spearheading a donation drive to collect soccer cleats and other supplies to be given to children in South Africa. The siblings, who play for the North Kitsap Soccer Club, have set up a donation box at The Zone Sportsplex off of Finn Hill Road and hope to fill it by the end of the month.

“I think it’s just really nice that we’re helping the people in South Africa,” Ainsly Mackenzie, 10, said.

The siblings have collected 16 pairs of cleats so far, mostly from their teammates.

“I just ask them, if they have any extra cleats, someone in South Africa would love to have them,” Aubrey Mackenzie, 13, said.

They’ve also received a handful of jerseys, shin guards and soccer balls.

Teaching the Mackenzies their philanthropic lesson are another brother-sister pair: their mother, Kari, and a University of Washington lecturer — their uncle.

Tod Bergstrom teaches business and law courses at the UW and will lead a team of undergrads to South Africa in August as part of a three-week study abroad program. During the trip, students will learn about business practices, ethics and law. But they’ll also spend time repairing a soccer field and passing out the equipment the Mackenzies collect.

“It’s important, I think, for students to do something beyond just being tourists,” Bergstrom said.

It’s the third time the UW has sent a group to South Africa, but the first time Bergstrom has taken part. When the program began, its original leader, Rick McPherson, sought a practical way of helping the people in the city of Soweto, the team’s second stop on the trip. Staff at the group’s lodging, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers Hostel, recommended doing something with the dilapidated soccer field adjacent to their property.

“Soweto was an integral part of the trip from the first time they went,” Bergstrom said. “Rick identified soccer as the most appropriate community service project, given its proximity to the hotel we were staying in.”

Located on the outer edges of the sprawling Johannesburg megalopolis, Soweto is the largest and most famous black township created during the country’s apartheid era of racial segregation and oppression. It, along with Johannesburg, has been known to visitors as a less-than-ideal place for a safe stay.

“When we first started going there, people were a little bit skeptical,” Bergstrom said.

But the UW crew has not had problems in Soweto in the past, and many students regard their stay there as a highlight of the trip. Bergstrom hopes that sentiment will be bolstered, rather than hampered, when his team hands out the soccer supplies this year. A concern is that giving away freebies to some children could incite jealousy in others.

“With the distribution I think we have to be careful and strategic so that we don’t cause any problems,” he said.

Bergstrom is hoping to collect 150-200 pairs of cleats. He enlisted both the Mackenzies and his brother’s two children, who play for the Crossfire Premier Soccer Club in Redmond, to collect donations.

“Basically it’s my family project, which has turned into a fun little event,” he said.

Kari Mackenzie set to work right away, notifying the North Kitsap Soccer Club of the project.

“Kari’s kind of a get-it-done person,” he said.

Mackenzie saw the project as a chance for her son to perform some community service as part of his membership in Poulsbo Middle School’s honor society.

“When Tod approached us with this idea, I thought this would be fabulous for Aubrey to do and kind of take it globally,” she said.

Bergstrom suggested adding his niece to the mix.

“Tod thought, ‘You know, it would be great for Aubrey’s team to do this, so we might as well get Ainsly’s involved,’” Mackenzie said.

Bergstrom would like to see his niece and nephew continue and expand their involvement in the project in the future. Although the young soccer players are not able to join their uncle overseas this year, a future trip is not out of the question.

“I’m hoping that one day they’ll become like the adventurous traveler that I’ve become,” Bergstrom said.

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