COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Members of the Hilltop community gathered Saturday to honor a young boy whose life was taken too soon.
Dozens of young men showed up to play in the Hilltop Tigers soccer tournament honoring their friend and teammate.
Jeylani was shot and killed in July while practicing soccer with his team at a neighborhood field.
For the Hilltop Tigers Soccer Club, soccer is more than just a sport — it’s an escape.
For Jeylani, it was his love, which is why his teammates thought what better way to honor his life than playing the game he loved.
“He was a lovely kid, always with a bright smile,” said Abdullahi Kassim, director of Neighborhood Athletics, which is hosting the two-day tournament.
His teammates said his death has rocked the community and weeks later, they are still not able to wrap their heads around what happened.
Saturday’s tournament is all about raising awareness for gun violence in the community, and the organizers hope this will be the start of a bigger movement that helps children escape the violence.
“So it’s big dreams, much more than just playing,” said Aden Mohamed, a former coach for the Hilltop Tigers. “For them, it’s ‘How am I going to get out of here and how am I going to get my family out of here.'”
Each player said they will be thinking about Jeylani as they run the field and remember what a bright light he was in each of their lives. Many of his friends said Jeylani was one of the players determined to do good and get a college education.
“He was definitely one of the kids that we all could say, and to this day, I will say he was destined for something great,” Mohamed said. “It was unfortunate that his life got cut short the way it did, but we are hoping to keep his legacy alive because a lot of his friends are still playing soccer. They are still involved in the community positively and a lot of them chose to not put their heads down and said, ‘We are going to do this for Issa.’”
Saturday’s tournament will feature two games, with the winners facing off in the championship round Sunday.
The Hilltop Tigers was created as an escape for the young children from the violence and drugs they may face at their homes, helping the children forge a positive pathway for their future.
“We all knew how far he could have went,” Mohamed said. “A lot of his friends are still playing soccer. They are still involved in the community positively and a lot of them chose to not put their heads down and said, ‘We are going to do this for Issa.'”
For this community, Saturday’s tournament was about having fun, remembering the life of a promising young boy, and showing that violence will not win.
“That’s why they’re here, they’re playing soccer, and that’s what Issa loved and I’m sure Issa would’ve wanted them to do,” Kassim said. “And we are going to keep his legacy going.”
Organizers hope to keep the memorial tournament going in future years, with the goal of raising enough money to start a soccer scholarship in Jeylani’s name.