For most, youth soccer is just an activity you do growing up – but for the players of the Little Haiti Football Club in north Miami, it is so much more.
“That’s like my family, my brothers — the team means everything to me,” said Faykino Sejour, a senior who plays for the team.
Most players are Haitian, including recent arrivals getting a grip on learning English. And many — just in their teens — live here alone.
“Most children are considered high-risk. They have a high chance of being caught up in gang activity, problems with the law. By having this here, this is the best gang alternative that you can possibly come up with,” said Pat Santangelo, co-founder of the team.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, the players gather to practice – and since their founding in 2014, the team has worked hard to get players to graduate high school and go on to college. And this year – something incredible happened.
“For the first time in club history, all 12 seniors from Little Haiti FC are going to college,” said Christopher Corey, a sponsor for the club.
They’re not just going to college — they’re juggling multiple offers. Seniors Anthony Rivier, Berndil Heradr and Alexander Charles all got into at least three colleges. Many more have been offered soccer scholarships.
The team is quite competitive, playing and winning against well-funded teams where it can cost some $500 a week to train and participate so they can pay for uniforms, field time and costly trips.
But for the players of Little Haiti FC, it can be much more challenging. The field they play in is donated by the city, the coaches are all volunteers, and in fact, most players have to find a way to get to practice on their own.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have soccer moms — these kids come from challenging scenarios — a lot are homeless,” Santangelo said.
The majority ride the bus or the jitneys to get to the field. Back in May of 2019, three players waiting to get on a city bus to meet their teammates during the early morning hours so they could compete in a tournament were struck and killed by a drunk driver. Richecarde Dumay, 17; Lens Desir, 15; and Gedeon Desir, 13, were all killed – two of them had their immediate families in Haiti.
“Every time I think about them, I say, I gotta push, I gotta push,” Heradr said.
As competitive as the team is, they still struggle financially – on the night NBC 6 caught up with them, they were desperately in need of more soccer balls for practice – they only had three.
“This is a 100% volunteer org, these coaches are on their team, not being paid, travel on their time the club struggles for donations,” Corey said.
The team hopes it’s not just this year – they hope they can replicate that so that every senior, year after year, heads off to college.