By Matt Kane
There is no grass, no painted lines, no electronic scoreboard, no public address system, no lights, and the goal posts are made out of tree branches.
A soccer field in such condition would be shunned and left vacant by players and families who spend thousands of dollars each year to play on lined, artificial green fields equipped with concert-quality sound systems, LED stadium lights and goal posts made out of aluminum at schools and clubs around the United States, but, to four Delano teenagers, who are all soccer players, that brown, dusty field, is one of the most beautiful soccer pitches in the world.
Speaking of world, that primitive field sits on the other side of this world from the United States, at Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLoG) High School in Busolo, Uganda, Africa, where, in the eyes of the locals, it is their billion dollar stadium.
“That field right now is nicer than 90 percent of the fields in Uganda,” said one of those Delano teenagers, Will Crowley, one of the four founders of Shoot For Change in Uganda, a campaign that, through donations, raised $11,000 to build the soccer pitch.
The field was completed and officially dedicated in July, with Crowley and his Shoot for a Change partners, Abbie Jo Madson, Wyatt Hill and Aubri Farniok in attendance.
“It was a long road coming. It was cool to see the finished product,” said Crowley.
The Delano four had seen photos from the beginning stages of the soccer field construction, but had no idea what to expect before seeing it firsthand during the recent trip with a group from the Church of St. Anne in Hamel.
“It is set on a hill overlooking the landscape,” explained Farniok, who is a junior on the Delano girls soccer team this fall. “First seeing it, you are like, ‘This is surreal.’ Even though the field doesn’t look like much, we know how much time and effort and money went into just getting it to that stage.”
Seeing the field in person was breathtaking.
“We walked up to the field and none of us said a word. We were speechless,” said Madson, who will attend Luther College this fall. “I might be a little biased, but this field has the most gorgeous view ever. The best view in the world.”
The Shoot for Change group wasn’t alone at the dedication.
“There was a huge ceremony with 600 people there,” said Crowley who will begin classes at Marquette University in Milwaukee later this month.
That dedication ceremony and the game of soccer that followed were the highlights for Hill, who began his senior season of soccer at Delano this week.
“I had goosebumps and was speechless the entire day,” he said. “That was my favorite day, the dedication and playing soccer with them.”
The entire 13-day trip was eye-opening for Madson, Hill and Farniok, who, prior to the July trip, only knew of OLoG from photographs and Crowley’s stories.
“I watched three of my very good friends fall in love with the same people I fell in love with two years ago,” said Crowley. “It was everything I hoped it would be, bringing them.”
The soccer field and a new science wing at the school are the physical products St. Anne’s mission trips, but, when talking about the visit, the Delano four all bring up the people of Busolo and the students of OLoG.
“I was overwhelmed by how many girls came out to see us when we got there,” Hill said, referring to the students at the all-girls school. “We were on the bus, and we had just gotten off the plane so we were super tired, but, when they came out it immediately got us energized.”
“They are like paparazzi, always holding your hand or grabbing your arm,” Madson noted of the ever-present swarm of smiling kids.
“I noticed how full of joy the people there are and how grateful they are for everything,” said Farniok.
Farniok witnessed the importance of the field while visiting a young boy at his home. Not knowing she was involved with funding the soccer field, the boy, who walked three hours to attend school at OLoG, said he was proud of his school, “Because of the soccer field.”
“To us, it is not a soccer field we would play on, but to hear he was proud of his school because of this soccer field, it was the best gift he could have given us,” she said.
“That field, literally, changed that school and that village,” said Madson. “The impact that field made on that village is crazy.”
Also crazy is the impact those villagers and students had on the Delano four.
“When we were going over there, we were thinking about how we helped raise money for a soccer field to help them,” said Madson. “But, honestly, they did more to help us.”
The field will always be special to the Shoot For Change in Uganda group, but it will take up an extra-special place in Crowley’s heart, as, to his surprise, the field was dedicated to his later father, Steven Crowley, who, on April 11, 2014, at the age of 50, was killed in an automobile accident on Highway 12 near Orono.
“That was the beauty of it just how much those people grew to know us and care for us. It was touching and a beautiful moment,” Crowley said of the unveiling of a plaque that declared the field “Steven Guadalupe Soccer Field.” They showed us that plaque and we got in a group huddle and shed some tears.”
Steven Crowley’s death preceded the trip that changed his son’s life by just three months.
Crowley embarked on his first mission to Uganda with a group from the Church of St. Anne to help build the Our Lady of Guadalupe High School in July of 2014.
Then a sophomore at Delano High School, Crowley soon knew he wanting to do more for the OLoG community, where people live on what amounts to the cost of a pair of soccer shoes, $200 per year, in homes made of homemade bricks or mud, with banana-leaf roofs. He first recruited Madson, his sophomore classmate at the time, who he teamed with on the J-Walkers youth group in 2014, and who had made a trip to Kenya one year earlier, in 2013, with a group of Canadians. The two, then, convinced their two underclassmen soccer buddies, Hill and Farniok, to join the cause, and, soon, Shoot for a Change in Uganda was founded, with the goal of raising money to construct a new soccer field for the 350 students of OLoG, an all-girls school.
The previous field at OLoG was washed away, and another was deemed off-limits to the students, who range in age from mid-teens to mid-20s. Thanks to the efforts of Shoot for a Change in Uganda, those students at OLoG, again, have a soccer field.
“It was the most rewarding thing I have done in my life. There are so many dimensions to why it was so good,” said Crowley. “Seeing something that needs to be done, finding it, and actually doing it, is something I am so proud and happy I was able to follow through with.”
The work of the Church of St. Anne and Shoot for a Change in Uganda is far from complete, Plans to build a dormitory for the school are in the works, and, according to Crowley. Grass will be planted and fabricated goals will be added to the field, which is already serving as a source of income for the school, which rents out its use. Professional teams have already scheduled times.
“In the near future, there are ambitions to make this field just like the fields back here. That leads into, ‘What’s next?’” said Crowley.
Eventually, Crowley hopes the little soccer field he and his friends funded in Uganda, a nation the size of Nebraska, becomes the best field in the country.
“We hope it has the effect we are dreaming it will have,” he said. “To be something nobody there has ever seen.”
To doubt that the field will become what Crowley envisions is foolish, according to Farniok.
“To people who think dreaming big like this is crazy and it can never happen, if you have the dedication and motivation and support system to get something done, anything is possible,” she insists. “When Will and Abbie suggested this idea to me, I said, ‘You are crazy. This is not happening.’ In just a year, seeing how much progress we have made and money we raised and how many people we got involved with it, it is cool to think back from where we started to now. And, in another year, we will look back to now and see how far we have come.
“No dream is too big.”