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thinking outside the box

Ohio coach launches innovative soccer program for kids in Liberia

From thousands of miles away, Eugene Harmon is motivating kids in Liberia to give it their all on the soccer field — and in the classroom.

Harmon, 33, is a native of Liberia, and grew up playing soccer with his friends in the streets of the capital, Monrovia. They didn't have shoes, and used rocks and sticks to make goalposts and lines on the ground. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2009 to go to school, and earned a scholarship to play soccer at Bucks County Community College.

Now an IT specialist living in Columbus, Ohio, Harmon still adores soccer, and through the game, has found a way to stay connected to Liberia. In 2019, he started the Zion Astro Football Academy in the city of Ganta, three hours away from Monrovia. He uses his own money to pay $1,800 a month to rent a soccer field and pay five staffers. About 60 kids between 12 and 15 are part of the club. 

Liberia's civil war ended in 2003, but it devastated the country and infrastructure, and Harmon told The Columbus Dispatch it was important he provide opportunities for young people there. In order to participate in the soccer club, the kids must also attend school, and together they practice three times a week, read every day, participate in community service projects, and listen to speakers. On Thursday, Harmon delivers motivational pep talks via Zoom.

Earlier this year Harmon used most of his life savings to buy six acres of land in Ganta. He plans to build a school there for the kids to attend for free, because his "primary goal is to give them an education."