Daniel Wyatt has discovered a constant in the world and uses it to this day to bring children together – that constant is soccer.
On a vacation to Costa Rica in 2010, Daniel noticed multiple soccer fields in San Jose. He found it odd they were empty. Instead of playing on green turf, kids were passing soccer balls in the busy streets. They did not have proper cleats and shin guards, and their clothes were dirty and torn, Daniel noticed.
Local pastor William Padilla, serving as a guide for Daniel’s family on the trip, explained: The kids didn’t play on the fields because it cost $60 an hour to rent them.
Padilla, of Vuelo de Aguila churches in San Jose, also told Daniel that youth in the area commonly fall into lives of crime, drugs and violence. Daniel said he instantly felt compelled to help – but didn’t know how a teen from Davidson could aid kids all the way in Costa Rica.
So he asked himself, “What is the best influence (for youth) in Costa Rica?”
On his spring break the following year, Daniel revisited the Central American country, sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, searching for an answer. He recruited his best friend, Alex Lee, to travel with him and meet Padilla.
Padilla took the teens to a soccer field in central San Jose, escorted by police in bulletproof vests, Alex said. That moment helped solidify the idea of creating a soccer league to mentor youth living in poverty-stricken areas. Working with Padilla, Daniel and Alex (both juniors at Concord’s Cannon School) and Daniel’s brother, freshman Ben Wyatt, started One by One Costa Rica.
The teens raise money and donations of equipment, and Padilla supplies a crew of church members to manage the league’s teams. “I’m so excited to be able to help positively influence these kids’ lives,” Daniel said.
In its first year, One by One Costa Rica raised more than $15,000 in donations and an estimated $6,000 worth of gear, including soccer balls, cleats, shin guards and jerseys. (One by One also helps pay travel costs for the kids to compete against other teams in Costa Rica.)
For the nonprofit’s first season, which began in September 2011, about 60 kids took to the field. Padilla said the coaches faced challenges, including one kid showing up to practice with a gun in one pocket and drugs in another. So coaches set hard rules – no swearing, no weapons, no bad conduct and anyone breaking the rules would get cut.
In a January One by One Costa Rica blog post, Padilla wrote: “Some of the young men still consume drugs, but through the faith of God and this program, we feel that we will help them, over time.”
On their third trip to Costa Rica, in March, Daniel, Alex and Ben attended a tournament game, finally getting to see the faces of the kids they are helping. “They couldn’t believe someone from so far away would be willing to help,” Daniel said.
By June, the league had enough interest to establish three teams, with about 140 youth. A girls’ team is in the works. The goal is to reach 200 children by the end of 2012.
“(The league) gives us the opportunity to teach them the principles of life,” Padilla said in a blog video. “We are looking forward to the upcoming season.”
Eighty people attended the most recent fundraiser at the Wyatts’ house in late July, giving money and more than 50 pairs of soccer cleats. One by One has also established a partnership with Omega Sports to help provide cleats.
The teens hope to one day purchase a field, which they say costs about $1 million. A donor recently agreed to give $100,000 if the teens can match that donation within the year, said James Wyatt, father of Daniel and Ben.
These days, Daniel, Ben and Alex await weekly reports from Padilla about soccer practices.
Those are now held every Saturday.