The story of the Monrovia Football Academy
By Wynfred Russell
I believe, one of the best things to come out of Liberia this year was the little-known Monrovia Football Academy’s U-15 female team that wooed the crowd and took first place in the Target USA Cup in Blaine, Minnesota. So, I had to put a visit to the Academy on the top of my To-Do List.
Still mesmerized by their football prowess and uncanny mastery of ‘the beautiful game’ during the tournament in June, I mentioned LEAD MFA to most everyone I met, but to my utmost disbelief, no one had heard about them, let alone the international trophy they won in the US.
With George Weah, a former international footballer as President, many are left wondering why he, his administration, or Liberia Football Association (LFA) has not fully embraced the successful LEAD MFA youth football program? I think something is amiss. It doesn’t make sense — a no-brainer; a low hanging fruit for the government to showcase and support, but it hasn’t.
When the team arrived in Liberia, as is atypical for teams that win championships, there was no welcoming party, no parade or official visit to President Weah was had (a congratulatory was sent); nothing happened. However, the international champions did receive some balls from Vice President Jewell Howard Taylor, who has an initiative to support women sports, and were feted to brunch by ANC leader Alexander Cummings.
I invited several guests to accompany me at the academy in Konola, two of whom happened to be good friends of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Zoegar Wilson. One of them excitedly called the minister and gave the phone to me to tell him about the team; his response was tepid, he was uninterested in hearing anything I had to tell him about the girls. The entire football establishment including the LFA, for whatever reason, seems to be shunning the championship-winning U-15 female football team, even though Liberia is a football-crazed nation.
“Hello, Uncle Wynfred,” they exclaimed, when I arrived on the temporary campus, they are sharing with Konola Mission School in Margibi County until their main campus is built in Careysburg. Many of the children came outdoors to greet us. They talked about how much they missed being in America and how they would love to return.
They were giddy with delight. They were funny and personable. They were cheerful. There was something so warm and comforting about them. After our get together, they headed for their siesta while another cohort went to the practice field.
LEAD MFA has a winning formula; to empower and transform the lives of Liberia’s youth using football as the vehicle. The school gets good marks for its high expectations, its positive culture, and its success in preparing students for life after football. It is a highly competitive and selective program. For this academic year, more than 3,000 students applied, only 22 were accepted. There are currently 109 (64 boys and 45 girls) student-athletes enrolled in grades 3 to 8, a new grade is added every year until it reaches 12th grade), from 9 of Liberia’s 15 counties, with plans to hold recruiting events in the other six counties during the dry season. But the Academy is particularly known for helping disadvantaged youths from Monrovia’s slum communities get on a path of athletic and academic success.
I fell in love a dozen times that day. There are times when you sit back to reflect on your life experiences and are overwhelmed with emotion. This was that time. The thought of sitting in the middle of athletically gifted and smiling children, who have plenty of reasons not to, is inspiring. Yes. They inspired me. They do not need much to be happy. Just each other. A football. A pen and paper. And a little hope.