About six years ago, during a church outing to read Christmas stories to immigrant children at a DeKalb County apartment complex, Grant Goodwin watched some of the kids split off and start kicking a ball around.
He could tell they knew what they were doing. They were good.
Somebody should put together a soccer team for these kids, he thought. Then he decided he ought to be that somebody. Although he’d never coached soccer in his life, “I just felt called, I guess,” he said.
The next spring, he scheduled a practice at the apartment complex. Eight kids showed up. Soon, he had a team, although he wasn’t altogether sure how to coach it. For that first practice, “I brought the wrong-sized ball,” he said.
Soon his team, the Warriors, was competing against other soccer teams from around the area. His players had names like Ali or Abdul or Ivor and came from all over – mostly Africa, but a few from Bosnia or some other country where soccer was the sport to play.
That first year, they played in an under-12 league. Goodwin had to learn the rules of the game so he could coach. To dress his team, he found someone willing to sell them left-over jerseys for $3 apiece. “We had no money,” Goodwin remembers. “We had no clue.”
They kept on going. Six years later, the Warriors still play. The players are 17 or 18 years old now. Soon, some of them may head off to college. Goodwin figures that maybe five of “the originals” still are on the team.
“We are in our final season,” said Goodwin, a 34-year-old financial advisor.
It hasn’t always been easy, he admits. Goodwin lives in Buckhead, but his players ended up scattered across DeKalb and from Grayson to Jonesboro. He was their chief method of transportation and had to pick them up for practices and drive them to tournaments. And they’ve given him trouble at times.
But somewhere along the way, they bonded. “It doesn’t stop at soccer,” he said. “These kids call us at every hour of the day. Before last year, my wife and I spent 1,000 hours a year on these kids and thousands of dollars a year.”
He figures he’s spent $15,000 to $20,000 from his own pocket on the team. At times, the pressures on his family were huge. But the Warriors became his family, too. Goodwin taught some to drive. He and his wife, Laura, would take them to church and out for pizza. They’d babysit his kids. His 2 1/2-year-old daughter calls one player “Uncle George.” “A lot of them are like part of the family, practically,” Laura Goodwin said
As for the Goodwins, “they’re great people,” Abdul Saleh, 17, one of the original players, said before practice one recent Sunday afternoon. “They have good hearts and all. They came and they didn’t expect anything. We’re like a family now. If one of us needs help, we talk to Grant.”
Abdul’s family came to Georgia from Ethiopia. Teammate David Ndenga’s family came from the Congo. He says the soccer team has helped keep him out of trouble. “When I was growing up, I had a lot friends getting in trouble with the law. He gave me a place to get away from all that and play soccer,” said David, who’s 18.
Goodwin, David said, “is like a big kid. He’s cool. We can just be ourselves. He jokes around with us, has us come over to his house and feeds us.”
“It makes you feel like you have something to live for,” Abdul said. “It makes you want to give to other people.”