South Charlotte

Soccer team helps the homeless

Douji Jean is in the semifinals of Central Piedmont Community College's intramural soccer tournament and nothing about him looks out of place.

He's a recent transplant from Boston - slim, fast and 20 years old, with the fancy footwork of an agile collegiate soccer player.

But he's not in college. Not at CPCC. Not anywhere. Not yet.

He's a member of Street Soccer 945, a team of men and women who are either homeless or were recently homeless. The team is sponsored by the Urban Ministry Center.

CPCC intramural league coordinators invited Street Soccer 945 to give the team an opportunity to play in a recreational setting, and to raise the consciousness of college students about different populations.

Street Soccer 945 is named for the address of the Urban Ministry Center on North College Street.

This is the program that sends athletes to the Homeless World Cup, a soccer tournament started in 2003 in which all participants represent their own countries, but live on the streets.

Since 2006, cities with similar programs have sent teams to a U.S. Cup tournament. Street Soccer 945 finished second last June.

The Urban Ministry Center is a day shelter for the homeless, providing counseling, showers, laundry and life skill programs such as art, gardening, and a choir.

Roughly 600 people use the center's services daily.

Pete Fink volunteered at the center for 18 months before becoming its director of soccer in 2009. He teaches more than just passing and dribbling.

Players are required to meet with him regularly, following up on three-, six- and 12-month goals they set for themselves.

Homeless six months ago, 23-year old Antoin Huntley, the team's broad-bodied goalkeeper, and Ayoni Williams, 22, a friend he recruited on to the team, say Street Soccer 945 became part of their therapy for getting their lives on track.

"Ever since I've been with 945 and coach (Pete Fink), I've got housing, I'm working, doing good and taking care of my (fiancée and 3-month old son)," Huntley said. "They taught me how to become a good, positive person, how to man up."

"Sometimes the goals are just going back to college or finishing high school," Fink said. "We give them the option that CPCC is there."

Last spring, Street Soccer 945 won the championship in CPCC's first intramural league. Since then, two of its players have enrolled in classes and Jean also is considering attending CPCC or Johnson and Wales.

Fink said there are 15-20 active players on the team but it's sometimes hard to predict which ones will show up for games and practices. Fink also helps find leagues the team can play in and coordinates practices, not an easy task when communicating with players and tracking their whereabouts has so many obstacles.

Street Soccer 945 has played in leagues through parks and recreation and a private indoor soccer facility.

With the help of Dan Bailey, a Street Soccer 945 volunteer and one of the league's coordinators, Fink said the CPCC league was the team's only option this fall.

The league has six co-ed teams and plays five-on-five indoors at the Betty Rae Thomas Recreation Center on Tuckaseegee Road. Fink said the team likely will play in an indoor men's league starting in February.

Jean, who scored twice in Street Soccer 945's semifinal loss last week, doesn't know how long he will stick with the team, hoping a lifestyle change will result in better opportunities.

"If I go to school or join another soccer team, I might stop playing for a while," he said. "But Street Soccer would always be with me."