These young refugees are finding their way in America through soccer

Soccer Without Borders integrates language learning into soccer practices and provides a community for young refugees and immigrants.

These young refugees are finding their way in America through soccer
Scripps News

Soccer is often called a universal language. Nowhere is that more true than when you pass through the doors of a Soccer Without Borders hub.

"It sounds so cliché, but it's the world's sport," said Kat Sipes, program manager for the Maryland Hub in Baltimore.

Sipes grew up playing soccer and played through college. Now, she spends her days working with youth of all ages to pass on her soccer knowledge.

"Sport, in general, just has this power over people, and it builds community," Sipes added.

And building community is what Soccer Without Borders is all about. The organization, established in 2006, works to serve young refugees and immigrants. These "newcomer students" often need additional help learning English, so Soccer Without Borders offers a number of different after-school programs aimed at bridging that gap.

Migrants walk near the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Migrants seeking asylum face uncertainty once they reach the US

Advocates say the real issue is not Title 42 restrictions but the broad need for immigration reform.


"We know when it comes down to learning a new language, having a safe space where you can comfortably practice that new language is paramount to learning," said Nick Brooks, program manager. "It's incredible how much confidence a young person can have, and how much that can be veiled under fear and hesitancy because they don't speak a native language."

Young refugees commonly have to shoulder additional burdens of learning how to navigate a new culture and advocate for their parents, many of whom don't speak English.

"We always have this mentality that play and fun is a way to connect with young folks, especially young folks who have been through a lot of adversity and challenges," said Brooks. "In many ways, that childhood experience is taken from folks. A lot of responsibilities and burdens fall on the backs of many participants."

But students like Raly are finding hope and community in Soccer Without Borders.

"I feel like soccer brings all of us together, and we trust each other," she said.

The organization has six different sites: Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts and California, as well as international sites in Uganda and Nicaragua. Brooks says they hope to continue to grow to meet the needs of an increasing number of global refugees.

"Soccer might become what they show up for, but I think it starts as just a place where they feel a sense of community and a lot of love," said Sipes.