Justin "cech" Ridinger
The Normal West boys and girls varsity soccer teams visited Jamaica this past June and were given the opportunity to explore Jamaica’s unique culture through soccer.
Head coach Dr. Val Walker grew up in Jamaica before moving to the United States to teach. He wanted take his teams to Jamaica to open their minds about other cultures. He said, “It is important that these kids know how parts of the other world live.” Walker constantly talks to the players about hardships faced in Jamaica with hopes it will help them grow as young adults.
While in Jamaica the teams split their time between playing on the beaches and playing soccer in the mountains, but even with all their playing, they found some time to do meaningful work. The soccer teams put on a kids camp for grade schoolers at a school Coach Walker attended and donated socks and cleats which became some of the kids’ only pairs of shoes. Senior Clayton Davis said, ” I never knew how hard it was (living in poverty), but now I am glad I was able to help.”
The teams also visited St. Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), a Jamaican High School where the Wildcat players were allowed to shadow classes and walk around the campus. “There were many differences between the schools and cultures, but at the end of the day we are all human,” said senior Hanna Simmons. She also added, “It was nice to be able to sit down and talk to them and we all realized we aren’t so different from each other.”
While at STETHS the boys and girls each played three highly competitive games. The games were violent at time with a girls player breaking her wrist and a boys player bruising his ribs. The players were told it is just how the game is played down there. Sarah Hodgen, a senior, said ” I enjoyed being competitive with the people in Jamaica [during the soccer games] but as soon as it was over we would sit down and talk to each other.”
The trip lasted only eight days, but there was talk from players and coaches from both countries about making the trip a yearly occurrence.