November 3, 2014

Before the story about the struggles of the Haitian women’s soccer team appeared in The New York Times, before the Clinton Foundation pledged its support, and before Miami Heat owner Micky Arison offered to assist, there was Culver Girls Academy junior Anne Marie Wright with her birthday money.

The unlikely partnership of Wright and the Haitian women’s team started in 2013 when they arrived in her hometown of South Bend, Ind., to begin practicing for the qualifying round of the 2015 World Cup. Since the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the island nation’s women’s team has been struggling to survive. The quake destroyed the Haitian soccer federation’s headquarters, killing 30 people – including the women’s soccer coach. The women’s team had no place to practice, no coach, and many of the players didn’t even have a home.

The Haitian women found a volunteer coach in Shek Borkowski, who coaches FC Indiana. Borkowski agreed to coach the team on the condition that they would spend part of the time in South Bend, which is near his home in Goshen. The approximately 20 women who make up the team have been practicing at the Indiana Invaders’ soccer complex and sharing apartments in South Bend.

Wright, who plays on the CGA soccer team, was working out with her younger sister’s club team at the Invaders’ complex during the 2013 summer when Borkowski invited her to practice with the Haitian women. Since then, she has been an eye witness to the women’s struggles to stay afloat individually and as a team.

“They don’t have a set roster,” Wright said, explaining that circumstances in Haiti often dictate whether someone is able to stay or must go back home. “It seems like every time I see them, there is a new girl. They don’t have a set pool of girls waiting to play to pull from.”

She also noticed the players were doing without the basic necessities: cleats, shin guards, practice clothes, socks, sports bras, equipment bags, and water bottles; simple items that any high school team would have. That is when she decided to help the Haitian team by collecting supplies and raising funds for the potential World Cup contenders.

So when the University of Notre Dame athletic department switched from Adidas to Under Armour this summer, Wright took advantage of the clearance sale the university conducted in June. She asked her relatives and friends to forego any gifts for her 17th birthday and donate the money to buy the old Fighting Irish soccer gear instead. Using her birthday money and a little bit more, the Wrights went shopping.

“We paid $2,000 for equipment that would retail for over $10,000,” she said. That included cleats, T-shirts, jackets, socks, slides (flip-flops), shorts, practice gear, and compression shirts and shorts. That included 49 pairs of cleats, which was top on her list. “Everyone got what they needed,” she added.

Everyone got what they needed

In order to cover expenses, Wright established an account on the Go Fund Me website. Her goal was $2,000 so she could repay her father and have a little left over to buy other items for the team. Her clearance sale spree generated a story in The Observer, Notre Dame’s campus newspaper, so that helped raise a few hundred dollars from friends and a few professors, she said.

Then The New York Times came to South Bend to do the article on the Haitian team’s plight and included Wright and her efforts to help the players. When the article appeared online Saturday, Oct. 4, it included a link to Wright’s fund-raising site. Donations jumped from $750 to $12,475 in less than a month. And she has another $400 from people who live in the area, “and more donations just keep coming in.

“Everything just came together,” she said. Then the news broke that the Haitian women’s team offered to give the team from Trinidad and Tobago $1,300 when those women didn’t even have meal money. That brought the offers from the Clinton Foundation and Arison, which are still being worked out.

But what didn’t make the headlines was a few days later the Haitian Federation informed the soccer team that it would not be receiving the funds needed to fly to Kansas City for its first round qualifying match with Guatemala. Again, it was Wright and her donors to the rescue.

Using $3,400 of the money she raised, the team chartered a bus to Kansas City in time for it’s game, which Haiti won, 1-0. But over the next week, Haiti lost to Trinidad-Tobago and the United States, eliminating the team from World Cup consideration. However, the team still has several games scheduled for this fall, Wright said, so there is still a need.

“I’m trying to do something so they can continue playing,” she said. She has received messages of support from around the country and some Midwestern girls clubs are asking for the Haitian team to put on a clinic in their communities. Other organizations are putting together care packages for the players. She has even received an email from France offering support.

For her personally, Wright is happy to see “so many people care about something. It is really interesting to see how people make connections – whether it is through soccer or just the human connections. It is fascinating to see what their impetus is for giving.”

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