"Youth need an organization that looks to instill on them values of respect, fair play, responsibility, self-discipline, and the value of hard work through sports."
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Hello and welcome to AP once more, dear readers! A few weeks ago, I actually dropped some hints concerning the interview you are about to read. I know many of the interviews I do have covered more technical aspects of starting and running teams. This interview is not like that.
West Bank AC is a soccer club that exists to serve the Somali-American community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This interview focuses on something very, very important that is normally talked about. Soccer as a universal language and a Community need. You'll also find more pictures in this interview than any other done before at AP. And that's because the pictures you see perfectly capture the thrust of this interview. Check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with West Bank Athletic Club?
My name is Ahmed Ismail, and I am the official coach for the Soccer club and also the Executive Director of the organization.
I have been running West Bank Athletic Club by myself since 2002. Originally I am from Somali but I have been a resident of the State of Minnesota since 1998.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer, and involved with West Bank?
I have been into sports all my life specifically soccer. I have played soccer since since childhood and joined any soccer teams that I could possibly get into, whether they were in schools, parks, and or smaller communities etc.
In his early 20’s I felt the need for a Soccer Club for the Somali Community.
What's the story behind the creation of West Bank AC?
After seeing the struggle the Somali Communities youth faces, I thought the young boys needed something to look up to, value and keep them away from drugs and violence. I started the club in the heart of the Somali Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the largest Somali community outside of Somalia resides. I believed the youth needed an organization that looks to instill on them values of respect, fair play, responsibility, self-discipline, and the value of hard work through sports and that’s exactly what West Bank Athletic Club strives to provide to all of its participants.
What's behind the actual name, West Bank?
The name came to be because the program got started in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis Minnesota, which is also referred to as West Bank.
Since you're a part of such a large immigrant community, what is it like living here in the US?
Living in the US, especially in Minnesota, is like Home. Having the largest Somali community here outside of Somalia is a blessing. Anyone can come straight from Somalia today and speak no English and they will get around just fine. There are a lot of Somali organizations and a lot of opportunities for the community here and I wanted to make sure the Somali community benefited from such opportunities.
How has your community responded to the presence of West Bank AC?
The community has always been very supporting of the program, especially the parents. I try to always be there for the youth and not just for soccer related reasons but to support the kids overall. I strive to encourage the kids to stay active in school and put their education first no matter how good they are with soccer.
(Idil Hashi, Program Coordinator) He has been like a father figure to some of the kids and the adults in the community always put trust in him for serving the kids. While playing soccer he emphasizes the value of team work, discipline, respect, leadership, and that it’s not always about how many games they win but how well they worked together as a team during the game.
Also, we hold a lot of tournaments and our biggest one is a nine-day, non stop tournament where we have teams participating from all over the States, coming together and playing each other. We call this tournament Somali American Festival Week. The community always looks forward to our summer tournament because it is the biggest soccer tournament the Somali community has and we are proud to say we make it happen. Last year we even had a team from Canada participate which was really exciting. For the summer tournament, we mainly focus on our adults team from ages 18-26. The community really loves it when we put together tournaments like this because it’s a moment when we can put our differences and struggles aside and just enjoy the beautiful game.
How important is it for any community, not just the Somali-American community, to have a team it can call it's own?
It is really important for the community in so many ways; firstly soccer is not famous here in the United States but it is a sport that is appreciated everywhere else in the world. Also, I am trying to bring the community together through soccer. Yes, the majority of the players and participants are of Somali descent but that is not our only aim. My goal is to get everyone involved and the community sees that, which is why they are always helping through sponsorship's, etc.
When I first started West Bank AC I was mainly thinking about the young Somali boys who had passion for the sport but didn’t have the accessibility to play. I didn’t want such talent and passion to go to waste just because these boys didn’t have the encouragement they needed and deserved. After doing this for several years I now see how much more of an impact I can have on others lives no matter what community they are from. After all, soccer is like a language that anyone and everyone can understand and love.
Where do you hope to see West Bank AC in the next five years?
In the next five years we hope to expand the program and also for the organization to get its own facility. The younger players deserve to get something to call their own, as right now we pretty much rent out local parks and we are happy to say we have good connections in the community.
However, it would be better for our younger players to feel like they matter and they have something of their own just like the other kids they play sometimes.
What are two or three things you've learned from starting and running your own soccer club?
I’ve learned that I can make a difference to a large group of people just through sports. At first I never knew I could have an impact on others lives just by providing them the time and encouragement they need. Some the of the boys I've coached and trained in the past have been through college and graduated and are living their own lives. Some of these young boys still reach out to me and thank me for giving them a chance and believing in them. Some of them just need someone to believe in them and let them know they can do whatever they set their mind to.
Also, I’ve learned that it not always about how many games my boys win but how hard they worked together in trying to win. Some of the boys I've trained in the past have had no type of discipline and I try to teach and strengthen that in them through sports. I’ve learned that I can teach these boys so much more than just how to play soccer, while actually playing soccer.
What is your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
La Liga and for a team, Barcelona.
Favorite soccer player. One past, one present.
Past: Maradona Diego.
Present: Leo Messi.
Do you have any books, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend?
None that I can think of now.
Where can people find out more about the team and how they can support it?
We have an official website and the link to that is...www.westbankac.org
Also, we pretty much have every social media platform
Also, people can send us a direct email to: email@example.com
Overall, the best way to get a hold of someone to talk about anything or get involved in any way shape or form is to through email.
How important is it to have a language like soccer that can bridge the gap between different communities?
I believe soccer is a form of language that is understood through team work and common understanding. It is sport that brings all communities together no matter its race, religion, ethnic background or gender. Soccer is for the common good and everyone is allowed to be present to enjoy such beautiful entertainment. Soccer emphasizes discipline, sportsmanship and leadership, which is something all communities need, especially at a time like this.
Coach, thanks again for taking the time to do this, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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