Rising Stars men’s football team succeeds in the face of adversity
Moses Idris’ day as the volunteer coach of the Rising Stars soccer team begins well before practice begins at 6 p.m. two nights a week at Kenny Anderson Park near Washington High School.
Most of the team’s players can’t afford to make it there, so Idris and the assistant coaches act as cab drivers, picking up the kids and dropping them off for the two-hour practice. Buses take several trips.
The Rising Stars program began three years ago when, as a junior at the University of Sioux Falls, Idris noticed a group of boys outside a library where he was studying on the east side of Sioux. Falls. Idris said that for some reason he saw himself in them.
The boys wanted to play football. They wanted to be like their favorite French players Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba or the Brazilian Neymar.
They just didn’t have a ball or crampons. They also didn’t have a coach or a team.
The group was mainly made up of refugee schoolchildren, members of the Kunama people of western Eritrea. Idris said most of their parents worked long hours and therefore could not take the children to practice.
âThe kids didn’t have a lot of opportunities,â Idris said. “I thought maybe I should do something for them because I don’t want them to get into the wrong things. The kids needed me, so I created a football team.”
With this, the rising stars were born. Originally 12 in the team, the group now has around forty players aged 8 to 15.
Field of dreams
It took a few years for the Rising Stars to be a full-fledged recreational team. For starters, they just practiced. Equipment was difficult to find.
There were no organized games, although sometimes an Iowa team made up of other Kunama would travel to play against the Rising Stars.
In order to join a proper recreational league and play competitively, money has to be paid. Idris had to pay player registration fees and team entry fees to tournaments. Even if he had this, most of his players couldn’t afford to wear their own crampons, shin guards or uniforms. The biggest problem the team faced was getting the players to train and play.
This year, Idris was joined by two assistant coaches for the program, Kela Mirko and Andrew Siebenborn, a lieutenant with the Sioux Falls Police Department.
Between the three coaches and other occasional volunteers, the players did not stop training. In addition, thanks to new sponsors including the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in Sioux Falls, the Dakota Alliance Soccer Club and the Sioux Falls Firefighters Association, the Rising Stars Under-14 team was able to register. at his first tournament, the Tempo Classic. held in Brandon June 11-13.
“It was their first official tournament and they were great. They won all three games,” said Siebenborn.
The Rising Stars won the championship 4-3 in overtime.
Three years after their founding, the Rising Stars played and won their first real tournament.
âTo see the boys’ joy winning the title and seeing them celebrate with their friends and family in their community was something special, and something that I will remember for the rest of my life,â Siebenborn wrote on Facebook after the tournament.
The players were delighted. Five days after the victory, some of them were still wearing their championship medals.
âIt was really special to them, I’m really proud of the hard work they put in,â Idris said.
Asali Sadi, 13, plays in midfield for the Rising Stars. He said he and his teammates “just wanted to play soccer” and winning just made the dream sweeter for the teenager, who like many of his teammates wants to someday become a professional soccer player.
âIt was awesome,â Sadi said. “The trophy was my favorite part of the tournament. It’s our first.”
More than football
With their first official tournament behind them, the team continues to work and prepare for their next matches. Outside of football, the coaches have said they are preparing the team for the real world.
Siebenborn said that football is not what they do but rather the way in which they do their real work. Idris agreed and said it was all about teaching life skills and keeping players on track.
âWe don’t just focus on football, we focus on academics, having a good character and continuing to grow them,â Idris said. “If I’m lucky enough to find them job opportunities or something, I’ll work on that too.”
Players follow a strict code of conduct on social media and they are required to come and train and work hard. Using lay language is also not tolerated and results in a run or push-ups when you’re done.
Coaches say they take rule breaking into account when choosing a roster for a tournament. With nearly 40 players on the program, cuts must be made when registering an 18-player roster for a tournament.
âThe best aren’t always chosen to play,â Siebenborn said, âbut we’ll take the kids who do as they’re told and work the hardest.â
As each practice passes, coaches continue to evaluate their team; some practices are good, others more chaotic. The Rising Stars have their next tournament scheduled for mid-July, and then another in August.
For the kids on the team, having a team to play with and something to play for is a dream come true.
“These are all my friends,” said Nathan Gala, 13, of the Rising Stars, “We just want to get better at football.”