When Haiti’s soccer team took the field at UCLA on Saturday during the first day of the Special Olympics, something was very clear to the crowd.
It was a match to determine the Haitians’ competition in the elimination rounds, and despite the fact their opponents weren’t far more talented, the Haitian team was being beaten badly. And from their white plain T-shirts, non-uniform shorts and lack of cleats, it didn’t look as though they’d overcome their well-equipped foes.
“I looked around and everyone either had tears in their eyes or they were looking away because they didn’t want to watch this,” spectator and former college soccer player Jenifher Albeno told ESPN.com’s Devon O’Neil. “Who cares about jerseys — as a soccer player, cleats are your most valuable possession.”
As it turned out, the Haitian team’s equipment had been sent to USC instead of UCLA. Albeno took action and began collecting money for new gear from willing spectators. And a 15-year-old college prep student at UCLA named Mia and local concert promotions company vice president Vanessa Kromer happened to be doing the exact same thing.
Albeno, Kromer and Mia realized they had the same mission when they met at an information booth, and before long, they had nearly $2,000 in combined funds. UCLA residence life coordinator JonJon Junpradub found shirts, water bottles and bags to donate, and the four of them bought the rest of the equipment at a local sporting goods store.
And even though Haiti fell in its next match Tuesday, coach Bony Georges said his team definitely appreciated the kindness of these strangers.
“I saw the joy, I saw the happiness in their eyes,” Georges told O’Neil. “It was a moment for them to share with those people, and get to know them. Even though they didn’t have something to give back, they were sharing their smiles and their appreciation.”
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@ESPN
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