Ubuntu Football: Embracing the Dream

20-year-old Alex van Schalkwyk’s incredible journey has taken him from being a 12-year-old soccer-crazed boy in South Africa to pursuing his soccer and educational dreams in the US at Dartmouth College.

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Photo Credit: Ubuntu Football (with permission)

By Stennett Smith

Sixty percent of South African children are growing up without a father in their household. Ubuntu Football is a non-profit soccer academy with a focus on mentoring and educating the next generation of leaders in South Africa. Starting with boys at 11-years-old and investing in them for the next 7+ years of their life, Ubuntu provides elite soccer training, a quality education through their own independent school, mentorship and leadership training, and a loving home at the academy residence. While it would be amazing if one of the Ubuntu players became the next great soccer star, the real hope is that through their mentorship and education, they will become great fathers, community leaders, and role models for the future of South Africa.

This series is dedicated to sharing their stories.

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Alex van Schalkwyk described the moment he found out he had been accepted to study in the United States as “absolutely crazy.”

“It was mad… my parents were jumping up and down, and my brother was there, it was crazy,”

— Alex laughed.

The same could be said for the six months it took for Alex to hear a decision on his application, which have twisted through emotional highs and lows. Now, Alex has completed his postgraduate year at Northwood School, a coeducational, independent boarding school which partners with Black Rock FC to offer an elite level soccer option. He is now taking the next incredible step, beginning his Freshman year at the prestigious, Dartmouth College.

Now 20 years-old, Alex joined Ubuntu when he was just 12. He has always wanted to pursue a quality education and play soccer. Alex is the third of the Ubuntu boys to travel to the US thus far, still with four still to follow him. He is the first to attend an Ivy League school.

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Alex van Schalkwyk at age 12, when he first joined Ubuntu Football Academy. Alex, who has moved houses between five and 10 times since then, somehow managed to keep up with his original kit.

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Since the beginning, studying in the US has been a pathway Ubuntu wanted for its players. In 11th grade, Alex went to the US & attended college ID camps. After training with top college players at Columbus Crew FC, he started to believe he could make it.

Upon returning to South Africa, Alex had a choice to make. His ultimate goal was to go overseas, but he applied to Stellenbosch University in South Africa as a backup plan. After being accepted, he took a risk and decided to forego that opportunity in the hope that another would arise, ideally in the US.

“I had a few emails from coaches, but there wasn’t a ton of interest. Sometimes the coaches took forever to respond, or they just wouldn’t respond at all. I started to realize going to the US is quite a difficult process. Even if you play well, it’s not easy to get into a university,” he said.

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A few months passed, then Alex received the first word about Northwood School, a coeducational, independent boarding school which partners with Black Rock FC to offer an elite level soccer option. This program provides top-level players from around the world a chance to play soccer and train throughout the academic year. Head Coach Casey Prince connected Alex with Jon Moodey, the Director of Residential Academy at Northwood, and he invited Alex to apply. Patience could be difficult in the coming months, especially when there was no school or soccer to pass the time. Alex, along with his parents and siblings, waited.

“We invested so much time into it, so for them to come back and say no would have been heartbreaking, but at the same time, we didn’t want to entertain that thought. We had to have faith that it would come right,” Alex said.

Then one day in June, Alex received his acceptance email. Hit with a wave of feelings from excitement to relief, it was time to switch gears and make a plan to get to New York by September 1st. During the Fall season at Northwood, the team competed against top prep and high school teams. In the Winter and Spring, they played against the best domestic and international club teams. Alex completed his post-graduate year, emphasizing preparation for college coursework.

“There were a lot of unexpected costs that came in the process, so our first solution was to make a soccer tournament,” Alex said. “We saw the interest people had in the tournament and decided we wanted to do it for more years to come, to help other Ubuntu boys in the future.”

“If I wanted to go play soccer overseas on my own, I wouldn’t know where to start. I think Ubuntu has given the perfect platform for us to go overseas. In a different place, never would I get an email from a coach asking me to apply to a school, then possibly get a scholarship, you know? It was only because of Ubuntu and their name that someone would even consider giving me this opportunity. I have to say Ubuntu played a massive role in getting me there.”

Alex, a dominant striker who enjoys Chance the Rapper, fishing, and playing play station, is still most excited about the soccer.

“I know it’s a basic answer,” he laughed, “but I know we are going to be playing in very good facilities, playing against professional academies, so that’s obviously very exciting. I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level I can, so the fact that we’re going to be competing against strong teams is something I’m looking forward to,” he said.

After Northwood, Alex hoped to continue his studies in a university, and ultimately, to sign a professional contract. Beyond soccer, Alex wants to work for a company that is dedicated to helping other people.

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Since the completion of his post-grad year at the Northwood School, Alex has chased his dream of continuing his studies and his play to the next level.

After numerous conversations around recruiting and university throughout the spring, Alex has taken his talents to Hanover, New Hampshire to join the Big Green of Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League university.

“Getting into Dartmouth is definitely a big highlight of my life. I would never have thought I’d be able to go to such an amazing school, so getting in was massive for me and my family,” Alex says. “My experience at Dartmouth has been incredible so far. The campus is beautiful, and the people are friendly and very motivated.”

Looking to help the Big Green get back to Ivy League Championship form, Alex is a 6’2″ forward with a presence up top. He is working hard on and off the field, continuing to adjust to the demand in the classroom. With a dream fueling his days, he is expectant for the rest of his career at the Division I level.

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“This has been such an amazing journey for us as a family and for Alex. We thank Ubuntu Soccer Academy for investing in Alex to harness his soccer and leadership abilities. We will forever by grateful to Ubuntu Soccer Academy who invested resources, time and commitment to grow Alex since the age of 12. It was hard work for him, but hard work and dedication proved to us that anything is possible, especially when you are in the company of great people, such as Ubuntu. While the journey was challenging and we as a family endured many uncertainty, there were life changing defining moments that came as a result of perseverance, faith and commitment to help Alex achieve and realize his dreams. And the vision and dream continues. Keep working hard through the uncertainty, have confidence in your abilities and reach for your dream where passion is unlocked and God meets you there.” — Wendy van Schalkwyk

This story was originally published on Ubuntu Football Blog and republished on The Good Men Project.

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