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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When is the last time you heard someone around Pittsburgh say, “It’s my goal to play professional soccer?”
That is precisely the goal of Brashear High School senior Ahmed Mohammed, and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds professional soccer team knows words like Ahmed’s have not traditionally been spoken in the football crazy area of western Pennsylvania.
“These students are not exposed to soccer in these communities,” says Jason Kutney, the sporting director of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. “Brashear is a bit different as there are many cultures that are. So it is an interesting vibe for us to get out here and play soccer with kids, that in many cases, don’t get soccer or get higher level soccer training.
This week, Kutney and a number of the Riverhounds players and staff members are visiting Brashear High School as part of the club’s Sub in for Gym Class initiative. It allows them to teach kids soccer skills during gym class — a week at a time in school districts all around the region.
“Our soccer players that actually did a little bit of a soccer clinic with them just are so impressed and in awe with these gentlemen,” says Christine Wolski, a Health and Physical Education teacher at Brashear High School. “They are just incredible people to give them this opportunity.”
Wolski knows how rare it is for her kids to have an opportunity to learn skills from professional athletes — and knows how expensive it would be to pay for private instruction outside of school.
While the Riverhounds are passionate about working with current soccer players, they also want to teach a love and appreciation for the game of soccer.
Kutney says, “The idea was to get our programming into schools, introduce soccer to as many schools as possible in the city of Pittsburgh, and then really since that time it’s really it’s expanded and gone out to Westmoreland to Greene to Fayette Counties.
Players like Mohammed say they feel an obligation to pass it on — to teach others what they have been taught.
“I got my little brothers, so I’ve got to teach them.” Mohammed continued, “I’ve got a team, so whatever I learn here, so when I have my other team ,so I got to show them what I learned here.”
Last season, the Riverhounds program took “the other football” to about 5,000 Pennsylvania kids. This year, despite a growing waiting list, they hope to get to seven thousand kids. They know they still have a long way to go when it comes to boosting the popularity of their sport in the city of Pittsburgh.
“We are not the Pirates, the Penguins or the Steelers,” says Kutney. “We have to a lot more organic work in the communities to really show what we do, introduce ourselves, get out into the communities with the pro players — and so this is really that.”
Thanks to recent sponsorship deals, the Riverhounds show up with all the soccer equipment the kids will need during their training sessions. When they are done, they leave the gear behind for the elementary, middle or high school teachers to have.
Wolski says that is a huge bonus in this day and age of dwindling dollars for schools. “We are a public school so we have limited means and with budget cuts, it’s just nice for them to donate whatever they are leaving.”
As an added bonus at the end of the year, all students who participate will be given a ticket to a Riverhounds game so they can see the game first-hand.