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John Hull's Notebook

“Starting Point United” concludes after-school soccer season

  • Updated
Mohammad Habil Karimi

Mohammad Habil Karimi, one of the more than 100 Afghan refugees enrolled at Samuel Kennedy Elementary, shows off his soccer skills during the EGUSD’s after-school soccer program for the Afghan students, which wrapped up its season on June 22.


It was really warm this week. Temperatures each afternoon above 100, little breeze and no humidity. It was a summer day in Elk Grove. 

That didn’t seem to matter much, though, to a group of young men, uh, boys actually, who were kicking the soccer ball outside Samuel Kennedy Elementary School. It’s about as far north as an Elk Grove Unified School District facility is in south Sacramento, yet very close to its premises are homes for families very new to our country. Most of them are from war-torn Afghanistan.

According to EGUSD’s Jenny Smith, there’s a little more than 100 students attending Kennedy whose families either moved from or were forced out of that part of the world.

Most don’t speak much English; likely languages such as Farsi, Darsi, maybe Persian. But, the one language these boys and their families do speak is soccer. 

It’s a sport that has its own language, translatable just about anywhere in the world. 

Smith and her staff knows this well. She’s the coordinator of Newcomer/Refugee Services for EGUSD. Alongside Ali Benawa, a project implementer in her office, plus someone who speaks “four-and-a-half languages” she’s teamed with others in the community to begin an after school soccer program. Thanks to a State-funded grant and a partnership with Starting Point for Refugee Children, headed up by Vickee Moy, they were able to order balls, cleats, shin guards and everything needed to allow the boys to have fun in their new country playing a sport most already know.

“(Soccer) is really popular in Afghanistan and most already know how it is played,” Smith said.

On Wednesday, despite the 100-degree heat, “Starting Point United” was on the field for the wrap-up event of their season. The goal of this program has been to provide an after school boys’ soccer club, focusing on inspiring students to be successful using team work, good sportsmanship and cooperation. 

“Starting Point United aims to instill refugees with hope that they will succeed, exhibiting their importance and belonging in the community,” Smith said. “Many have arrived just the past month, some have been here, oh, maybe a few months to perhaps a few years.”

“This is an opportunity for these students to remain both physically and emotionally healthy and to make friends, as well,” Moy said. “We’re excited to be out here and support their interest in the game.”

Hot day or not, the boys, most of them grades four, five and six, showed some real talent Wednesday in dribbling, kneeing, heading and kicking the soccer ball, showing real familiarity with the sport. Parents and friends lined the field at Kennedy Elementary cheering them on, too.

Amazingly, Elk Grove Unified teaches and offers services to almost 1200 students who are of refugee status, according to Smith. 

Republic FC to face MLS’ Sporting Kansas City

The U.S. Open Cup soccer semi-final match between Sacramento Republic FC and Sporting Kansas City, a MLS club, will be played July 27 at Heart Health Park (Cal Expo). Team owner Kevin Nagle tweeted June 24 nearing seven thousand seats were sold in the first three hours the tickets went on sale.

U.S. Open Cup is our nation’s oldest ongoing soccer tournament and this is the first time Sacramento has reached the semi-final round. “The Indomitable Club” defeated the San Jose Earthquakes in the round of 32 and last week defeated the LA Galaxy, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.

In reaching the semi-final round, Republic FC is the first club outside of MLS to make the penultimate stage of the tournament since another USL club, FC Cincinnati, did so in 2017.

Three Californians drafted by NBA

In a state loaded with talented basketball players, it seems unlikely just three graduates of California high schools were drafted last week by NBA clubs. However, that was the case this year.

Peyton Watson, a shooting forward out of Long Beach Poly High School, was the lone first rounder this year. He was drafted by Oklahoma City and then his rights were traded to Denver.

In the second round Christian Koloko of Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth was pick number 33 by Toronto. Pick number 49 was Isaiah Mobley of Rancho Christian High School in Temecula. He was selected by Cleveland.


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Sports Editor

John Hull has been a part of the sports scene in Elk Grove since moving to the city in 1999. Hull originally came on board the sports staff of the Citizen in 2007, retired in 2019, but returned as the Citizen's sports editor in 2021.