COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Hilltop Tigers soccer team was created to help young children excel in soccer while keeping them away from trouble.
Now that organization is taking its mission to the next level by providing five young soccer stars with scholarships to help support their journey.
Each will be getting $20,000 over the next two years, which they can use to further their education or help support their families.
The five scholarship recipients were friends with 15-year-old Issa Jeylani, a member of the Hilltop Tigers who was shot and killed in July. My Project USA Executive Director Zerqa Abid said the five teens will make Jeylani proud.
The money will not just be handed to them – the boys will now have assistant coaching duties with the soccer program, be in charge of recruiting new team members, and act as role models for them. They will also work at the My Project USA food pantry and maintain their grades.
All of this is being done to teach these children leadership skills and help build their resumes for college.
“Soccer means a lot,” said Jamal Ibrahim, one of the Hilltop Tigers. “I grew up playing this sport so I play it out of love, nothing else.”
“It made me a better person,” added Mukumbira Mukumbira. “It helped me stay out of trouble and helped me focus on school.”
“It helps me stay out of trouble and not hang with the wrong crew,” added Shamarke Abdi, another team member.
Each recipient is between the ages of 15 and 18, and for many of them, college wasn’t even an option before joining the Tigers.
Now these boys are championship soccer players and working towards earning soccer scholarships in college, and they said the Hilltop Tigers has given them a family and put their life on a positive path.
“I was happy because I don’t have money for a scholarship,” Abdi said. “I don’t have money for college and stuff, and it helps me a lot.”
“My friends, once we grow up, I’m pretty sure we will be the role models here for the little kids here,” Ibrahim said. “They look up to us already, so we are just trying to set a good example for them.”
The team has already won multiple championships and many have dreams of playing soccer at a professional level.
Abid said she hopes this is the first of many scholarships given out.
“We use the love of soccer to harness that love into the track where they are also doing better in the schools,” she said. “Protecting and empowering our youth from the drugs, gangs, criminals in our neighborhood and putting them on the right path so they become productive citizens.”
The boys said thanks to the Hilltop Tigers, they feel like people now know them as the good boys that play soccer rather than a bad kid.