Khamsone Sithonnorath grew up in Laos during the late 1970s. He excelled at soccer and made the Laotian National Team by age 17. Laos was a small nation, but he played in a friendly match against China.
Wars in Southeast Asia forced Khamsone to refugee camps between Thailand and Laos.
There Khamsone met Vien. They fell in love. Vien and her family received word they would be resettled in the United States.
Khamsone promised to reunite with her there. He continued to play soccer in the refugee camps. Scouts for a Thailand pro team spotted him. They offered him a contract.
But authorization for Khamsone’s family to resettle to the U.S. came at almost the same time.
Khamsone let go of his dream of being a soccer star to follow his love, Vien, to America.
To learn more about Kick It Forward or to make a donation, visit www.kifsoccer.com.
The two reunited and married and settled on the south side of Des Moines in the late 1970s.
Their story is part of an ongoing legacy of the late Gov. Bob Ray’s humanitarian effort to aid Southeast Asians displaced by the Vietnam War and Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia.
Khamsone worked nights processing credit card transactions to support his and Vien’s family.
On weekends, Khamsone played soccer in leagues around the metro.
His son, Joe, idolized his father’s play. Joe took up the game in an organized league when he was 10 years old.
He excelled like his father. He played in youth leagues. One year, he was invited to play for two elite youth teams. The cost to join one league was $425. The other league, which was much better, cost $500.
Khamsone and Vien could barely afford the cheaper league. Joe understood, played well and learned a lot.
But he learned a lesson that stuck with him: Sometimes what separates people from their dreams is not skill or opportunity, but a few dollars of disposable income.
Joe became a star in his own right for Lincoln High School and then Drake University.
When he graduated from Drake, he worked as a paid assistant coach for the Dowling Catholic High School boys’ soccer team.
His friend and college teammate, Matt Sahag called. Matt founded a youth soccer skills program called Kick It Forward in 2012.
The group combines soccer coaching with community activism.
Kick It Forward began with 20 players 11- and 12-years-old. They learned soccer skills in camps and engaged in charitable acts off the field.
The first year, coaches and kids raised $6,500.
They donated money to help the Johnston Urbandale Soccer Club bring in a special youth instructor.
They gave money to help prevent cancer in Nicaragua and help a dozen impoverished students attend high school.
Joe loved to coach. But Kick It Forward pulled at him. This was the opportunity he needed.
Joe’s father sacrificed soccer for love and family.
The family sacrificed so he could play soccer.
Now Joe, who works at Wells Fargo, found a way to help others through soccer.
Joe resigned from his Dowling coaching gig and started working with the Kick It Forward team.
Kick It Forward seeks to raise money to help alleviate the costs of soccer participation for youth – just like the troubles Joe’s family faced when he was a boy.
The group wants to buy more equipment for youth soccer organizations and build futsal courts – small five-player soccer pitches – around the metro.
Kick It Forward encourages its participants to achieve and maintain good grades, stay in school and work toward college.
Matt and Joe aren’t trying to manufacture a new generation of pro players, although if that happens, it’s fine.
What they really want is to help as many kids as they can learn the world’s most popular game and use that love and fellowship to become the kind of people who sacrifice for others.
Just like Khamsone did all those years ago when he walked away from a pitch on a refugee camp and a possible pro contract to come to America for love and life anew.
Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live.