UM’s Donated Soccer Balls Making a Global Difference

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

See the photo gallery here

Take a minute and check out image No. 9 in the photo gallery above. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

How many smiles do you count? Don’t forget to include the shy guys crouching in the back. And if you want to give the little guy just left of center, the one smiling enough for two, some extra credit, go ahead, he’s earned it.

How many teeth are showing from inside those grins? How many hands are straining to get a magical touch of just one of the Griz soccer balls that Montana coach Mark Plakorus’s program has sent to Africa the last two years?

One photo. One ball. How many lives changed for the better?

Did you notice the piece of equipment that the soccer ball replaced? The garbage bags bundled up and held together with string?

UM donates soccer balls to AfricaBut back to those smiles. How can a picture be worth a thousand words when UM’s Head soccer coach, Mark Plakorus struggles to come up with even one when shown the same photo Friday afternoon during a break at his Grizzly SoccerAcademy?

“Kind of makes me a little speechless, and that doesn’t happen very often,” he finally gets out. There is a crack in his voice, some unfiltered emotion, that indicates this is the first time he’s been able to tie the powerful end result to his simple act of generosity. Community service writ large.

Plakorus’s office is often filled with mesh bags that are packed with a couple dozen balls, the easy-to-overlook accouterments of his life’s work. But set one of those balls loose — even one — see that it gets to Africa, and smiles break out all over. A Griz-sponsored epidemic.

“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” he adds. “To be able to help somebody have a smile like that is pretty awesome.”

In 2012 a box of balls made its way to Uganda. That’s photo No. 9. This year’s shipment was routed to Kenya, and the balls had just as great an impact, as the following letter wonderfully describes.

JAMBO University of Montana Grizzlies!

I want to say thank you for your generous donation to the Karati and Mburu Gichua primary schools in Kenya, Africa.

This was first and foremost a humanitarian mission, and we spent long days digging a water line for one of many villages that do not have access to clean water. We were also able to visit two primary schools to donate the soccer balls and other school supplies.

Word had gotten out that we were bringing real soccer balls, so the kids were going crazy before we even had a chance to get out of the car!

Needless to say, everyone was thrilled that they now had real soccer balls to play with instead of a ball made from plastic bags and string.

Thank you so much for your generosity. You have made a difference in the lives of these children, and I want to convey both my gratitude and that of the children.

Asanta Sana!

Evidence that you’re making a world of difference? When you’re thanked in Swahili.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com