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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alumni profile: As he prepares for college, Nana Asare passes on lessons learned to younger youth

(See Nana's photo album on Flickr HERE.)

This is not a story about DC SCORES introducing soccer to a child.

No, Nana Asare would still be playing the sport had he not been in the program. He likely would be very good.

But would Nana, 18, be heading off to Johnson State College in Vermont this fall as the first member of his family to attend college had he not participated in DC SCORES? Did he imagine this would be his future even five years ago?

Nana shakes his head, then smiles.

“I’m pretty much excited,” he said recently. “I guess it feels good to know that I’ve come a long way and accomplished something.”

He’s accomplished even more than the opportunity to go to college. Read until the end to find out.


Nana came to the United States from Ghana — he rooted for Ghana in the World Cup — when he was two years old. From a very early age, he wanted to be a professional soccer player.

That dream took a tragic hit — and could have been derailed permanently — during Nana’s second-grade year when he was hit by a car while walking across the street. He broke the femur in his left leg and fractured his skull.

His parents thought Nana should give up the game. Even as just a second-grader, he couldn’t stomach the thought.

“It was that pride and determination that I had,” Nana said. “My goal was that I wanted to be a professional soccer player.”

Since the accident, Nana estimates that he’s had “maybe eight to 11 surgeries on my left leg.” He adds, “To this very day when I play soccer at times it will kick in, it will lock itself or I’ll just get a cramp.”

When that happens, Nana deals with the discomfort. Then he returns to the soccer field, refocusing on the next pass, the next crossing ball.


Nana has been a paragon of determination since the accident. But it took him awhile to develop the focus and discipline that allowed him to juggle playing varsity soccer and academics at Wilson High School

Nana isn’t afraid to admit it — he was hard-headed, stubborn, and full of behavioral issues during his early years at Brightwood Education Campus. That is, until he joined DC SCORES in fourth grade and met Shannon Nelson, the soccer coach.

“She became a mentor-mother figure while I was at school,” Nana reflects. “She just made sure I had the right necessary tools to learn and live the life that I want to live. To this day we still keep in contact.”

Slowly, Nana became more accepting of others and stopped acting up in school.

Nana spent five years as a DC SCORES participant at Brightwood and then Paul Public Charter School, playing soccer — of course — but also learning to express himself through poetry. This helped him develop his public speaking skills and become a leader one never would have thought possible.

“It most definitely helped me with my social skills, you know with the whole poetry sessions and stuff,” Nana said.

Now, Nana is paving the way for others.


This summer, for the second consecutive year, you can find Nana at Marie Reed Elementary School braving the heat as a Summer Youth Employment Program worker at DC SCORES’ Soccer & Arts camp.

He also serves, unofficially, as a role model.

The kids love watching Nana bounce a ball off his feet dozens of times without it coming close to touching the ground. The high school graduate soaks up every moment with the third- and fourth-graders, fully understanding the influence he has on them.

“I take a lot of pride in it and I make sure that whatever message I send out I also in some way portray to them,” Nana said, “so that they don’t feel that what I said to them is not true or that I’m not that person they’re looking up to.

“I start choosing words more carefully and after all, they are kids and they will remember it forever. They’re not old-timers like me. They will remember it and remember it forever. I try my best to show what I say.”

Nana has taken one child, Jonathan, under his wing because he sees so many similarities to his younger self. Jonathan loves soccer. He’s also hard-headed and volatile at any moment. Nana may be headed 600 miles north next month, but his focus this July is on helping Jonathan overcome the same issues he dealt with.

“I can say that our chemistry with one another is on a good level,” Nana said. “Sometimes he can test me and I can be like, ‘We’re gonna run laps or do pushups,’ and he does it. He likes to talk about soccer a lot.

“Whenever something comes up in his mind, he’ll come and talk to me. Or if he’s having trouble, I’ll be able to straighten him out if I can, if he’s not too stuck up at the moment.

“He’s just been that one kid that I can say I’ve seen myself in when I look at him. I’ve been a knucklehead, I’ve been hard-headed, I’ve been stubborn at his age. It just takes that one person to have you under their wings to guide you the right way and you’ll be good.”


Nana can understand why to his mentee soccer might mean everything right now. He was there. But with age, Nana has gained perspective. He still harbors hope of playing soccer professionally, but he realizes that going to college gives him a backup option.

Nana plans to major in either kinesiology or computer science at Johnson State. His career — if not playing soccer — isn’t yet mapped out, but he’s confident, “I’ll find something out eventually.”

He has many people to thank for that — his mother, Grace, and uncle, Isaac Opong, pushed him hard in school since a young age. His soccer coach at Wilson and former New York Red Bulls player, Sal Caccavale, reminded him that it better suited him to “do what you do” instead of trying to emulate the professional soccer players on the TV screen. Finally, Nelson and other DC SCORES coaches and staff members helped him shed his attitude and blossom into a leader.

They can all be proud of the message Nana now passes on to current DC SCORES participants.

“I tell them that if you like something, you work hard for it, no matter what someone tells you,” he said.

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