Sutcliffe Brothers Helping African Soccer Players
Westlake teens, Huffington Post's Greatest Persons of the Day, gather used soccer equipment to send to Liberia
What started as a simple, good-hearted plan is slowly taking over the rec room in the Sutcliffe home.
Mark and Brian Sutcliffe started Operation Hope: Soccer Retread for Africa with their parents, David and Chris, to gather used soccer equipment for young soccer players in Liberia.
Since then they have gathered more than 400 soccer balls, close to 300 pairs of shoes, and an uncounted number of jerseys, gloves and shin guards.
For their efforts, the Sutcliffe brothers have been named Huffington Post Greatest Persons of the Day.
Two things inspired the brothers, both students at Westlake High School. One was one of Brian's premier soccer club teammates, Lawrence Yarwaye. Lawrence came to Cleveland with his family from a refugee camp in Ghana, where his family had gone to after fleeing Liberia.
Lawrence and his dad, Moses, told of soccer in the camp, where there was often just one ball for a whole team, and where players got infections on their feet because they had no shoes.
Giving back is important for this family. Mark survived stage IV Burkitt's Lymphoma when he was eight years old. Two things stand out in his memories from that time. One is the physical pain, like his nine rounds of chemotherapy, or when tubes were removed. The other is all the ways people showed love and kindness to him and his family.
Mark, who has had no recurrence, has been paying that kindness forward ever since. He has been a speaker at Relay for Life events. Every Christmas, the whole family goes to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, where Mark was treated, and give out presents.
And now, there's Operation Hope.
At first, Mark said, they thought it would be a small, local project. They reached out to the large soccer community in the area, like in Bay Village, Avon and Avon Lake.
Donations come in
You can find out about future collection drives on Operation Hope's Facebook page.
There was also an influx of donations from visiting teams in the recent Westlake Invitational Soccer Tournament. The continuing donations have impressed the brothers.
"When we first thought of this, I knew we'd get some help, but I never imagined so many people would pitch in," Brian said.
"The way people have been giving, how hearfelt they are, is so amazing," Mark said.
They have collected shoes of all sizes, some brand-new. One team, which was getting all new uniforms, donated its old jerseys that had only been gently used.
"Now a team can have all the same colored shirts," Brian said. "We take that for granted here."
Their friends and teammates, both on their premier teams and the Westlake High soccer team, have gotten involved. At Westlake High, community service is a requirement for students. So Demon players have gladly helped deflate soccer balls to make them easier to ship, zip-tie pairs of shoes together, and load donations.
The next step
As donations keep coming, another issue has been cropping up. Now they have to figure out how to get it all to Liberia. That's been a case of sticker shock, as David estimates it will cost between $3,000 and $4,000 to ship just what they have now to Prise Sanctuary, Kingdom Harvest Ministries in Monrovia, Liberia. Kingdom Harvest Ministries will handle distributing the gear among several surrounding communities.
David said he is hoping that monetary donations will help cover some of the costs. He is working on getting the organization 501C3 status to make monetary donations tax-exempt.