What was once just a Bronx middle school teacher’s far-fetched idea 11 years ago has become a worldly renowned sports program.
South Bronx United executive director Andrew So joined by two of the program’s success stories, 20 year olds Mohamed Konate and Maria Martinez traveled to Berlin, Germany to receive the 2020 Sport for Good Award by Laureus World Sports Academy.
The youth program was awarded for their work in underserved neighborhoods by engaging at-risk and immigrant children in the world’s oldest and most popular sport.
Andrew So, SBU executive director, cofounded South Bronx United in 2009 while he was teaching math and English at a middle school in Morrisania. After realizing the lack of after-school programs, his love for soccer and realizing the worldliness of soccer clicked to form SBU.
“If not for after school program, they’d be in the streets or going home to play video games,” So said.
According to So, the program started with a squad of 16 young teenage boys. The program now serves approximately 1,200 boys and girls.
The Laureus World Sports Academy awarded SBU with the Sport for Good Award at their 20th annual award ceremony based on the merit that SBU has used sport to “reduce the impact of violence, conflict and discrimination, to enhance social and emotional development, to inspire healthy behavior change and to increase educational achievements and employability skills.”
SBU does that, not only by boosting students’ confidences on the field, but helps the students in the classroom.
As a part of the SBU program, students are required to attend ‘academic enrichment’ sessions two afternoons a week, where they receive tutoring in math, English, science or participate in SAT testing prep.
20-year-old Martinez has been a part of the SBU program since she was 12 and one of the players who accompanied So in Berlin to accept the award.
“One of the greatest gifts SBU has provided to me is the ability to wake up every morning with a new goal and make an effort to be the best person I can be,” Martinez said.
Martinez, originally from Mexico, said SBU has even helped her and her family in the Permanent Residence Card process, which has enabled her to see family in Mexico, attend a service trip to Costa Rica and the opportunity to attend the award ceremony in Germany.
“Throughout the years SBU has not only provided emotional support and been like a family to me,” Martinez said. “But they are helping me graduate from high school and attend college.”
Martinez said feeling a greater sense of service in herself and experiencing the press conferences were the highlights of her trip to Germany.
Martinez’s plans for the future include continuing her soccer career into college with dreams of becoming professional one day and creating a non-profit focused on animal care and soccer. She added she wants to become a role model for younger girls like she once was.