Saturday, 23 December 2017

Mohammad and Simon

“This Feels Like Home Now”
Young Syrian soccer standout finds his place on the pitch
From the Chronicle Herald newspaperDecember 2017 – Sport Nova Scotia Supplement
By Monty Mosherreformatted for your screen.

The highest virtue of sport is to create connection where one didn’t exist before.
In that regard, meet 12-year-old Mohammad Zeina.
Mohammad is Syrian. His family relocated to Jordan, escaping the ravages of civil war. Less than three years ago, Mohammad, who has three siblings, accompanied the family on an even longer journey, this time to Canada. They live in Hubbards.
Mohammad didn’t have many skills in English, but he learned quickly. Playing soccer with friends helped with that.
Today, the centre mid-fielder is one of the top 12-year-old players in the province. In November, he was selected for the Soccer Nova Scotia under-13 provincial program. He had to be designated as one of the top players on his team to get that opportunity.
He’s not entirely sure why anyone is interested in him. On a recent evening at the Soccer Nova Scotia training centre in Halifax, Mohammad is far more interested in getting to his game than talking about himself.
“I just like to play,” he said. “I like to feel the ball on my foot.”
The war is still close to home in his household. He has four uncles and an aunt in Syria. The news from home isn’t always pleasant.
Soccer, for Mohammad, made him feel a part of his new country and province. He now attends Five Bridges Junior High in Hubley. His club team is Halifax County United 13 AA.
“This feels like home now,” he said. Duncan Foote is one of his coaches. He said Mohammad has slipped into his new life without missing a step.
“I don’t know what it was like for him there so I don’t know what the difference would be, but since I’ve known him he’s always been easygoing and comfortable.”
For Foote, there is no doubt where soccer fits.
“It’s given him something to do. If he didn’t have soccer he’d be home a lot, outside of school. I think it has helped get him out in the community and meet new people. It has helped make him feel like he’s fitting in with the group.”
Soccer provides confidence. Mohammad’s ability on the pitch makes an introduction.
“I certainly know he’s happy with how well he’s done,” said Foote. “He’s got a lot of confidence as far as soccer goes, that’s for sure.”
Up to a point, the Foote family helped uncover Mohammad’s talents.
Simon Foote, Duncan’s son, saw Mohammad on the playground and noticed he was pretty good.
Mohammad got a tryout. Now Simon and Mohammad are teammates.
It hasn’t been a one-way relationship.
The Foote family has learned much about Mohammad’s family.
“Its been a great experience for us,” Duncan Foote said. “We’ve learned about his culture. It’s been nice for us, too.”
Simon Foote said soccer gave Mohammad a stage. He was good and his teammates wanted to know more about him. Mohammad and Simon have become great friends.
“Now he’s just another player,” said Simon, offering the highest compliment a teammate can receive.
Simon doesn’t know much about his friend’s past experiences. Mohammad doesn’t talk about it and Simon doesn’t ask. There is no need.
Soccer is joy and a sense of connection for Mohammad. It requires no explanation.
It’s helped with the language. “Soccer has been a bunch of that,” said Simon. “He’s learned more words just with guys talking to him at practice.”
Simon believes his friend can go far in the sport. Maybe he’ll wear the Maple Leaf one day.
“I think of it now that he’s Canadian. If he were to play on the Canadian team it would be perfectly normal.
“A couple years ago I would have thought he should play for Syria. But not anymore.”

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