The Lilburn-based Kalonji Soccer Academy modestly touts on its website that it “uses soccer” to develop life skills for young people, many of whom are refugees from war-torn countries.
And while the nonprofit organization is determined to positively develop young minds and attitudes through mentorship, KSA is turning out some pretty good soccer teams, too.
KSA’s U-15 team, coached by boys academy director Borfor “Buff” Carr, has enjoyed an excellent year playing in several leagues, recording but two losses and one tie in more than 30 matches. The team is ranked No. 1 in Georgia, No. 3 in its region and No. 13 in the nation, according to Youth Soccer USA and played in the U.S. Youth Soccer national championships in Overland Park, Kansas.
“They’re really excited – it’s a place they wanted to come to (for nationals),” said Carr, who was born in Liberia, moved with his family to the Ivory Coast and then on to Gwinnett County, where he played soccer at Central Gwinnett for four years and graduated in 2006. “They have worked so hard – we’ve been training four days a week. And these are some competitive kids."
In late June, the team advanced to nationals with an undefeated run in the U.S. Youth Soccer Southern Regionals in Baton Rouge, La., winning the championship game against the VHSE Streamers Black (Alabama) 4-0.
The 19-member team has players who hail from Tanzania, Burma, Thailand and Ethiopia, among other locales. Players on the U-15 team include Kasai Ramazani, Nwebube Onwuanyi, Siem Beraki, Alexander Lee, Amari Robinson, Geordi Ngartoubam, Emanuel Michael, Alphonso Moni, Khamani Pitt, Michael Kalombe, Kendall Henry, Joe Win, Daniel Vahnie, John Perez, Bryan Duran, Abnet Baro, Shaddai Campbell, Estache Mbilizi and Manato Arndall.
Carr, who played professionally in Romania and Tobago, as well as with the Atlanta Silverbacks FC, said that in addition to coming to the United States from war-ravaged nations, many of KSA’s players come from humble surroundings, without the means to play soccer in their respective communities.
“We give them a fair and equal opportunity to play the sport they love,” he said, adding that the team plays year-round and begins a new campaign in August. “They’re good kids, good students and this is one of the things that helps them and keeps them off the streets. Recently, one of our kids was stopped at gunpoint in his neighborhood for his phone. That’s the kind of environment many of these kids come from. We really try to help them.”
Carr says that KSA founder and executive director Bruno Kalonji (himself a refugee) mentored him right into the professional ranks, and former KSA players have played at the next level at Furman, Mercer, Georgia Gwinnett and Anderson University. Kalonji has coached at Meadowcreek and Shiloh and also served as women’s soccer coach at Georgia Perimeter College, where Carr was his assistant.
“He gave me an opportunity,” said Carr of Kalonji. “He took me in. My passion was to play professionally and he took me in and trained me to be a pro. He was in a position to help me and he did.”
For more information on Kalonji Soccer Academy, visit www.kalonjisoccer.com.