While working as a linguist in Chad, Africa, my family and I had an unexpected encounter in the year 2000 with twelve young forgotten and neglected boys from our rural village in the bush town of Lai. This isolated African village had no paved road, no running water, no phones nor electricity.
The twelve young men in this story were all from a tribal group called the Kabalai. As a linguist, I did not work directly with the Kabalai people. I focused my work on the Arab and Fulani nomads, but my family and I lived in a mud-brick, tin-roof house in this Kabalai village. We would travel out from our village in our 4×4 to the nomad camps to do our linguistic work and teaching. So, honestly, these village boys that hung out around our home were nothing more than a nuisance to me. They made rural and remote village living miserable for me and my family. They used to irritate me, my wife, and my four small kids by throwing pieces of bricks at us while we walked in our yard. They thought it was funny and amusing, but we didn’t! These young boys upset us and aggitated us day in and day out!
However, my wife began to have compassion for these young village boys. She spent several months trying to convince me to reach out to these young men. Finally, God softened my heart and one day I woke up and invited them into my grass roof Welcome Center to talk and visit.
I soon discovered that they were trouble-makers mainly because they had no one to “watch their backs” and teach them to be Men of Honor. In time, I invited them to a weekly Bible Study that I taught in French. These twelve young men soon became my “Little Buddies” who were very, very precious to me and my family.
While all of this was going on, I developed severe and chronic tendinitis in both of my shoulders from playing lots of basketball and from teaching a basketball clinic in my village. Soon, I could no longer even lift my arms over my head to shoot a basketball! I had played basketball my whole life and shooting hoops meant everything to me! In High School, my team and I had won the Alabama State Championship, and I was unwilling to let go of the glory days by giving up my favorite sport! But like it or not, Father Time was doing a terrible number on my 35-year-old shoulders! The pain was so bad that I could not even lift my hands above my head!
Well, I tried getting my sports-fix by playing a bit of soccer each day. Although I really liked soccer and had also played it in High School, I still felt depressed that I could no longer shoot hoops! Then a seminal moment happened! On that fateful afternoon after playing soccer, I slumped down in defeat and sat on top of my soccer ball. I stared blankly at the sky feeling very depressed that I could no longer play or teach basketball in Africa. As I poured out my depressed thoughts to God in prayer, Edison’s proverbial light bulb suddenly clicked on in my cranium. Immediately, I stood up and looked around to make sure that nobody was watching me! I then began to kick, head and knee my poor confused basketball in the direction of my suddenly microscopic seeming basketball hoop. To my surprise, I was actually able to kick and head my basketball into the basketball hoop a few times! Eureka! An out-of-the-box idea hit me like a ton of African mud bricks! My idea, therefore, was to combine the concepts of basketball and soccer into one game so that I could shoot hoops without further injuring my excruciating shoulders.
As I developed my plan for combining soccer and basketball, I went down to the open market and found a blacksmith and a welder. I explained to them my design of an over-sized basketball goal with no backboard. After cementing the support post of the huge hoop into a truck tire as the base, I then had a blast field-testing my new sport. It worked to perfection!
Several days later, I introduced SoccetBall to my twelve little African friends. We divided up into two teams of five people on each team, and we had a great time playing SoccetBall. The dynamics of this new out-of-the-box game that combined both soccer and basketball into one game were fantastic! SoccetBall fast became the only sport my that my Little Buddies wanted to play! After one exciting SoccetBall match, one of the young boys even asked me if we could watch a SoccetBall Match on ESPN sometime! As I confided with them that they were the first people in the universe to play this game, they were all smiles!
A few weeks later, we held a community SoccetBall Exhibition Game where my little SoccetBall guys invited all their family and friends to come. Around 150 people came! SoccetBall became the talk of the town.
Several months later, it was time for us to pack our bags and move back to American after living in Chad, Africa for six years. As I lay in my bed after a long day of packing up our stuff and saying our goodbyes, I began to soak my pillow with huge alligator tears and weeping loudly. My wife added her tears to mine as we shared how much we were going to miss our twelve little precious SoccetBall boys! They had stolen our hearts!
I would miss loading all twelve of them into our Toyota pickup truck and driving them through the village at nights while they sang their favorite songs. The change in these young men impacted many souls in the village. They became my buddies, body-guards, friends and little brothers.
When the final day came, we hugged them goodbye the day we left Lai. We were all shamelessly crying like babbling babies. The emotions and feelings were too deep to describe. These little guys had obviously never been hugged like we hugged them that day. They were as stiff as a board and crying their eyes out like they were at a funeral. They did not know how to hug, but they knew how to show their love through their tears.
Love is like a tsunami in power and scope. Unstoppable. Knowing no bounds. No barrier and no end. Yes, love never fails!
When we finally arrived back in America a few months later, I built another SoccetBall goal out of copper tubing and a Little Tikes basketball base. I introduced SoccetBall to several youth groups and AWANA clubs. Several parents and kids began asking me where they could get the SoccetBall game set. Soon word got out even further, and I suddenly found myself in the “shark tank” with two different sports companies bidding for the exclusive rights to market my newly invented game of SoccetBall. As I flew out to Kansas City and then to Atlanta to negotiate with the executives of both companies, I finally chose the best deal. Sportime International was my company of choice. To my amazement, Sportime doubled the royalty percentage of the other company in order to make sure that they could clinch an exclusive deal with me and my newly minted sports invention company called Prodigy Sports International.
We have held SoccetBall exhibition matches throughout Chad, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, USA, Thailand and the Middle East (view the videos here).
Once the license contract was officially signed, my company Prodigy Sports International, and Sportime International began a great partnership and successfully marketed SoccetBall worldwide starting back in 2002. Recently, we at Prodigy Sports International licensed SoccetBall to a world-class PE company called, Gopher Sport, who now owns the rights to SoccetBall. Together we have rebranded and are relaunching an updated version of the SoccetBall Game Set. Look out world! Here we come with the next-gen SoccetBall Game Set!
It has also been a joy to be able to give back to our African village through the donation of new team uniforms, balls and sports equipment. As we grow, we envision one day being able to build a first-class SoccetBall Stadium in our African village of Lai – the birthplace of SoccetBall!