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Soccer Saves

Cliff McCrath won 597 games as a college head coach. Now he's out to save the world, one child at a time —
and he needs your help

In his 38 years at the helm of the Seattle Pacific University men's soccer program, Cliff McCrath enjoyed certain advantages. Among them were a program that won five NCAA Division II titles and an area rich in talent to keep it rolling.

But when it was time to start a different chapter, McCrath wanted to focus on those who didn't have advantages.

With that in mind, the man with 597 coaching victories over 49 years, and who now is in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame, teamed up with Frank Schott, a former Microsoft executive whose has a passion for humanitarian causes.

From there, Soccer Saves took root, officially coming to life earlier this year.

"It has been kind of cooking for several years," said McCrath, 73, whose many contributions to Washington Youth Soccer were recognized when the cup awarded to the winner of the U19 Boys State Championships was renamed the Cliff McCrath Cup in 2008. "Frank came to our adult soccer camp at Camp Casey a few years ago. After one of the sessions, he said, 'When you're finished doing this and would like to do something really big, give me a call.' "

After McCrath left Seattle Pacific in 2008, he did connect with Schott, who has made numerous humanitarian journeys to Africa. Among Schott's work there is directing global programs for Net Hope, an organization that works with other humanitarian groups bringing technology to and solving technology problems in the developing world.

"We started meeting once every week or so," McCrath said. "He laid this out and said, 'Here are some opportunities.'

"He got my attention."

The idea here isn't to create soccer players. Rather, the organization's stated goal is to use sports — soccer in particular — to encourage better, healthier lifestyles, discourage gender violence, especially among boys ages 12-18 in the developing world, and try to cut down HIV/AIDS cases.

"It became very clear that children from (age) 0 to 6 and 6 to 12 are pretty simple to handle — nutrition, diapers, milk, inoculation (depending on the age)," McCrath said. "But by the time they hit 13, even their own governments don't care about them. Our whole program is aimed at capturing these people through soccer."

Soccer Saves (www.soccersaves.org) isn't having to go it alone. It is partnering with Save the Children, which operates in more than 30 countries in Africa and in more than 100 around the world. The Seattle Sounders and the Northwest Soccer Fund also have become prime partners.

All have embraced the Soccer Saves message. And soccer is a particularly timely way to spread it on the African continent. South Africa is hosting the 2010 World Cup.

"If you put up a sign or send out a message saying, 'Hey, we'll meet on Friday night in KeyArena to talk about nutrition and other things,' we'll be talking to ourselves," McCrath said. "But if you throw out a soccer ball, they come from all over the place."

This past spring, Soccer Saves and Save the Children started a program in Ethiopia. Part of the time, McCrath and the others on the trip talked soccer and coaching techniques.

The rest of the time, the focus was on lifestyle messages.

"We had 32 coaches and hundreds of kids," McCrath said. "By the second day, it was like the pied piper. We came in Save the Children SUVs, and by the time we got down 150 meters of pot-holed road and got to the field, there were literally hundreds of people there.

"Every day for six or seven straight days, it was like Santa Claus was coming to town."

MULTIPYING THE MESSAGE

Many humanitarian organizations, whether by design or happenstance, wind up with a particular branch that ultimately becomes the best ambassador for whatever message it is trying to deliver.

 

For Soccer Saves, that branch could wind up being its Youth2Youth initiative. According to the Soccer Saves Web site Web site, Youth2Youth "has one outrageously ambitious goal: to connect every one of the three million-plus youth soccer players in North America to teenagers in Africa that simply want an opportunity for a happier, healthier life."

"What we're really looking for is how we can get this multiplied — one gets two, two get four, four get eight," McCrath said.

Already this year, Soccer Saves has been part of a VIP event during July's Sounders-Chelsea exhibition game that drew more than 66,000 fans to Qwest Field. It has hosted a golf tournament at Newcastle. And it has had a benefit roast featuring McCrath.

But resting on laurels isn't an option.

"We've found it to be very gratifying and a very productive launch," McCrath said. "Obviously, we've had some typical start-up problems, one of which is money. You have to have it to do what we do."

Anyone can help just by visiting the Soccer Saves Web site (www.soccersaves.org) to see what projects and initiatives are in the pipeline.

"We have a doctor who wants to take six months off and use his ability to see what he can do," McCrath said. "We have a dentist who has been to Africa a few times and wants to come out. As projects surface and as we get more and more structure, people can log in to what they would like to do.

"It's just building a core right now."

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