Negus Kloehn Memorial soccer tournament set for Dec. 18 at Homestake Peak
Tournament honors deceased VMS student's vision to provide soccer equipment for kids in Africa
“Everyone believes their child is special and a unique gift to the world,” writes Patricia Kloehn in her 2022 book, “Do Your Best.”
“However, as a parent, you also can look at your children and understand when a child has hit an incredible capacity for life and is teaching others versus when they are still learning themselves.”
Negus Kloehn, who passed away six weeks shy of his golden June 14, 2020 birthday, was a high-capacity, talented athlete who always “chose good over bad, being kind versus being hurtful and being humble versus feeding his ego.” Mature beyond his years, he even impressed a few indelible values upon his parents.
“He was always very clear about his future vision and direction: he always wanted to be a professional soccer player so he could go back to Africa to supply children with equipment and gear,” said his mother, Patricia Kloehn, who adopted Negus and his sister when he was six.
“When Negus passed away (from epilepsy), friends reached out and were like, ‘should we donate to the epilepsy foundation?’ And I was like, ‘no, you know what, maybe I should just do what he was going to do.’”
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On Sunday at Homestake Peak School from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Negus’ mission of providing kids in Africa with soccer essentials — a ball and two nets — will live on through Save the Ball, Soccer for Africa’s Negus Kloehn Memorial Soccer Tournament. The five-on-five World Cup-inspired indoor tournament, with U12, U14, high school and adult divisions, will raise money for seven different organizations which not only play soccer for fun, but “focus on teaching life skills off the pitch that reflect Negus’ attitude and approach to life.”
Location: Homestake Peak School
Date/Time: Dec. 18, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To register: Contact Kerri Thelen, executive director of Vail Valley Soccer Club, at email@example.com, or 970.390.7994.
Funds raised will go to support the following organizations:
Hope Soccer & Foster Care: Located in Kenya, there are 106 kids playing across four teams in various age groups where they need additional equipment to supplement the league.
Firstlane Volunteers: Located in Eshikhondi, Western Kenya, rural youths 16 to 22-years-old play on this league and are in need of any equipment, clothing and gear.
Kids for Africa Sports Academy: Located in Uganda, this organization is looking to build a school and create opportunities for vulnerable children to participate in sports in order to reduce poverty and improve their lives. Donations will help seed their soccer program.
Care Sport Foundation: In Zambia, this group teaches to orphans and street children. They have a girls soccer team playing in the women’s league and a boys soccer academy. They promote gender equity to develop self-esteem to prevent teen pregnancy and are in need of equipment for their outreach program.
Kicking for Green: This youth soccer team is located in Ghana, where Matt Lawie leads this team on the pitch and is changing lives positively through Eco-education. They teach, empower and promote peace and culture.
Muraykeeper Foundation: Located in Kenya, this non-profit organization uses sports as a primary tool to develop and empower youths through entrepreneurship skills and employability in the community.
EMS Children School Jos: Located in Jos, Nigeria, this school has over 350 children, ages 4 to 18. To play soccer, these kids use old trash bags tied to balls — the school doesn’t have access to a single soccer ball. Hayley Giordano, a volunteer at the school, said “I am eager to connect these talented, futbol-loving children to proper resources.”
“He was very unusual, let’s just put it like that,” Patricia said of her son. His kindness and sportsmanship were two traits that stood out, even to referees. On one occasion, the former VMS student — the school now has an award named in his honor — was about to be rewarded a penalty kick when he explained to the official that he in fact was at fault. Despite the cry of his sister from the sidelines, who shouted something along the lines of, “Negus, what are you doing,” the call was reversed. Afterward, the referee approached Patricia and remarked of Negus’ spirit of fairness, “I’ve never seen that.”
“So, that’s kind of how he was,” she continued. “He loved playing, and he was very good and very competitive, but he was a wise soul. He was bigger than the game.”
Those qualities, coupled with his resiliency in the face of seizures, starting at age nine, were the impetus for Patricia to write the first-person narrative, which she hopes to sell at Sunday’s tournament as well.
“Not just giving in and saying, ‘well I have this disease so I can’t do what I love’ — he was not like that,” the mother, author and former president and CEO of HealthWide Solutions who now works for Optum, said. “The book itself has so many good messages for kids these days.”
Sunday’s event will be the fundraising effort’s second. Kloehn said she learned a great deal in hosting the inaugural event in the summer of 2021, which had 30 teams, and feels the winter indoor approach might perfectly avoid potential summer soccer tournament conflicts prevalent in the valley. Plus, with the World Cup fresh in everyone’s mind, players of all ages ought to be stoked with the same enthusiasm captured on a daily basis by the tournament’s namesake — who grew up playing in Gambella, Ethiopia with less-than-ideal equipment.
“He described to me constantly how they would make soccer balls out of plastic bags and twine. That’s their ball; they don’t have a lot of real equipment,” Patricia said. Negus wrote several essays and prepared school presentations on his plan to bring better equipment to Africa.
“That’s kind of how I knew what he was wanting,” she said. “I took a lot of that material that he wrote and have kind of pushed it into the direction of what he wanted to do.”
How to get involved and be a part of the 2022 Negus Kloehn Memorial Soccer Tournament
Individuals, siblings and teams still interested in signing up are encouraged to reach out to Patricia or the tournament organizer, Kerri Thelen, the executive director of the Vail Valley Soccer Club. Cost is $20 per person. Registration and contact information is available on the Save the Ball, Soccer for Africa website, https://chihuahua-seahorse-y844.squarespace.com/5v5-tournament.
“Donations are always great, right on our website,” Patricia added. “That’s another way of helping if people don’t have kids or aren’t into soccer.”
Even though the event is still in its infancy, Kloehn sees its potential, and in a similar spirit to Negus, is dreaming big. She’s been contacted by Marines wishing to deliver new and gently used equipment when they fly into Africa and also had to turn away organizations hoping to get on the list of groups for this year’s tournament.
“This thing could be really cool once I get it established, but now, I have to kind of go smaller just to get it moving,” she said. “The desire I have is greater than the funds I have at the moment.”
For someone who attributes her son’s impact on her own life by stating in the preface of the book, “Success is … when you think daily, ‘What would Negus do?'” it is perhaps fitting that the event has started humbly, however. After all, the organizer knows her son is probably whispering two of his favorite phrases from above.
“Try your best.”
“You got this.”