The following is a letter from Sporting Kansas City Equipment Manager Mike Flaherty (@KitManSKC) detailing his experience traveling to Nicaragua and Honduras for Sporting KC's CONCACAF Champions League matches against Real Esteli FC and CD Olimpia. Prior to the trip to Honduras, Flaherty collected school supplies to donate to an elementary school in the city. Watch Flaherty talk about the supply drive here.
As you all know, we recently returned from our trip to Honduras and I wanted to take this opportunity to let everyone know about our school visit to drop off the supplies that you all graciously donated. I think that I really need to rewind and start from the beginning to give you all an idea of how much everyone came together for this project.
So to start, if you don’t know me, I am Mike Flaherty and am the Equipment Manager, Kit Manager or just Kitman of Sporting Kansas City. I have been with the team since 2009 and was happily part of the rebrand from the Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City. My job includes ordering, maintaining and tracking team equipment as well and various other tasks. Even though I have been able to memorize the underwear and shoe size of 30 grown men, I would say my biggest job is equipment logistics: the movement to and from matches and trainings as well as tracking the equipment throughout.
During my first season with the team, I was traveling back and forth to Thailand to see my now wife. During one of the visits, I decided to see the school where she grew up. It was eye opening to see what little resources that school had. Several of the kids coming out of school ended up in good colleges, but I could not stop thinking about how many got lost because they did not have the simple supplies to get educated.
I had donated used soccer balls and bibs and cones to the soccer team at the school but felt I should and could do more. The next time I went, I brought with me school supplies: pens and pencils, back packs and some notebooks. It was great to see the kids getting excited for new school supplies and I realized that even though I had continued to bring soccer gear, it was the school supplies that were more beneficial for the children.
Fast forward to June 2013 and the CONCACAF Champions League draw. We are drawn into Group 2 with the champions of Nicaragua Real Esteli and the champions of Honduras Olimpia. The exciting news for me was that Sporting KC owners were committed to winning this tournament and that we would be chartering flights to both away games. First and foremost, chartered flights mean that I can over pack, which is important since CONCACAF requires you to bring two sets of equipment to each game.
In my previous travels abroad, I’ve learned that it’s important to pack some extra gear because you never know what a T-shirt or hat will get you outside of the USA. So for Nicaragua we packed a few old soccer balls that had been left at the training facility. I also packed some used soccer shoes that have been used by the guys but are still in OK condition.
The day of the game against Real Esteli, the team doctor Neal Erickson and the head of Sporting Security David Dollase and I went for a walk. I was amazed how welcoming the people of Esteli were. We had a great time just walking through shops and interacting with people.
On the way back to the hotel we met a young kid who asked if we had some soccer shoes. He followed us down the block to the hotel continuing to talk to us about shoes. When we arrived, I got on the bus and pulled out some shoes for him. They were close to his size but he was so elated to get them he thanked us and ran off down the street to play. At that moment I realized how I had dropped the balls so to speak by not taking the situation and all the resources to bring something for education for the children here.
Fast forward to Honduras. This time, I was not going to let a great opportunity slip away and I made sure to stop at the store and get some school supplies. While I was looking at my five Justin Bieber notebooks, 10 pencils and five packs of crayons I began to think … What did the checkout girl think when I bought these Bieber notebooks?!? I moved past that quickly and began to think about how I could maximize the amount of donations to bring with me.
So once I decided that I wanted to bring school supplies to Honduras, I then needed to find a destination for the supplies. That was actually easier than expected. I contacted the Kitman for the Honduran national team and he said he knew the perfect school. Better yet, he was going to be in town and could take us to the school.
With that out of the way I took to social media and asked for help from the people I knew. The whole project took on a life of its own and friends kept sending me blogs and soccer sites that had picked up the story. Finally a reporter from Honduras got involved and asked for an interview. At that point I figured I had better start getting things together to see where we stood so that I could answer questions about what supplies we had collected.
Now I have to say that social media with this club has really brought me a lot of great things. The biggest is bringing me into the SKC nation and meeting people I might not have crossed paths with other than just a cheering fan at a game. The response I received was overwhelming to the point that I had to contact the plane because of the weight of the supplies. There were more 300 pounds of school supplies including pencils, calculators and all kinds of art supplies. I had to laugh and be thankful that some teachers and kids had obviously been involved cause they had flash cards and rulers, which are things I never would have thought about!
The morning of the game, the Honduran national team equipment van showed up to take us to the school. After we loaded the van, we made our way to the school winding through the city getting to see parts I am sure I would never have seen.
We arrived on a narrow street and got the big trunks of supplies and made our way down the alley with walls on both sides topped with razor wire. We knocked on the wall and waited as they unlocked the three locks holding the door shut. They opened the door and we entered the courtyard of the school as kids leaked out of the classrooms to see who was here.
The kids were eager to practice their English with phrases like: “My name is Anthony what is your name?” … “We are friends am I right?” … “Nice to meet you!”
I then took the ritual awkward photo when you have to pose for a staged picture handing something to a student. So in front of the entire school myself, Dave Dollase (head of Sporting security) Dr. Neal Erickson (Sporting team doctor) Andy Garay (assistant Kitman and translator) and Dion Dundovich (Security Officer) all stood on stage and handed kids school supplies for the cameras.
Then they brought up the soccer team (who were about to leave for a game) on to the stage and we handed them a soccer ball yet again for the cameras. The only “real” part was when one of the players in excellent English explained to me why he thought I should give him a trial with Sporting KC. He worked the rest of the staff learning names and chatting everyone up as they left for the game. No doubt he will run that country or maybe another country someday!
Once the team left, the kids were lined up and ushered back to their classrooms and we finished up with the press (wishing I had brought someone from the media department!). The principal asked what we would like to see and I asked to see the classrooms and visit all the grades. The best part of these trips is always getting to see the kids and teachers proud of what they do. We asked each class what they were learning and how much English they knew. In one class they had a map so I asked someone to come up and find Kansas City on the map. A young girl volunteered and marched right up. I gave her a little hint and she found it right away. The strange thing was the only city printed on the map in the Midwest was KC. There was no St. Louis, Chicago or Denver, just Kansas City.
As we walked out of one classroom, Dave Dollase asked the doctor if he had seen the girl that appeared to have burns on her. When we inquired about the girl, she came out to the courtyard and we were told she has a really bad reaction to the sun and what appeared to be skin cancer. Dave quickly dug through his bag and handed the little girl sunscreen. She thanked him then moved back into the classroom. That was a moment that made me realize how lucky I am to be born here in America.
It also made me remember how amazing these children are. Despite the fact that they are in desperate need of school supplies, eat government-supplied lunches, have an almost empty library with an ancient computer lab, have a basketball team that could not play in games because they did not own a basketball and have children suffering from preventable diseases, they are in great spirits. They live every second not thinking about anything but now. They play with all their hearts, they love without prejudice, they say what is on their mind, they know right from wrong and they want to learn and grow. Even faced with poverty, disease and hunger, these teachers and students look forward to a better future and are not tainted by what surrounds them.
I am so blessed, if you will, to have had this opportunity to lead this school supply drive. I am honored to have represented Sporting KC and MLS at the school and am honored to be part of a team of players and staff that are continuously giving their time and resources to communities in need. And of course thank you so much to the ownership group that is committed to winning and excelling in all facets of our business. Without that standard, none of this would have been possible! We truly are SKC Nation, a nation that continues to grow with every trip.
Sporting KC Kitman