Most youth team sports teach values like respect and cooperation, but few, perhaps, with as much dedication as the 33-year-old Ebony City Soccer Club (ECSC). Begun as a way to channel the energy of children on the peninsula’s East Side, the group quickly grew to encompass as many as 11 teams of predominantly African-American kids ages four to 14. ECSC’s leadership style is centered on the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba in Swahili) of Kwanzaa—which include virtues like unity, purpose, and collective responsibility—and geared toward helping players maintain a positive focus.
Each weekend, year-round, more than 40 children gather to practice at downtown’s Corrine Jones Park and Harmon Field. Seasonally, they play games within the S.C. Youth Soccer Association and City of Charleston Department of Recreation. “There’s a need for these kids to have something substantial to do with their time, something that helps them with their development,” says club president Vincent Ashby, who’s coached for more than 25 years. “Hopefully we’re providing role models children can identify with.”
One player from the club’s early days, Aisha Small, is now among six volunteer coaches. She leads the team her two teenage daughters play for, just as her father coached her and her brothers. “ECSC has saved many players,” she says. “It provides a positive outlet, but also the chance to earn scholarships and to use the principles of Kwanzaa and the skills learned from coaches to be better players and better citizens.”
The club isn’t just for downtown residents; many current members commute from West Ashley, Summerville, and Mount Pleasant, with Ashby working to coordinate transportation (he dreams of buying a van to shuttle players to games and practices).
Similarly, no prospective member is turned down because they don’t have the application fee. The group holds fundraisers to provide scholarships that allow its players to compete, regardless of financial ability. “We work as an umbrella for kids who want to play but ordinarily would not have access,” says Ashby.
The club also hosts field trips and service projects, including a recent gathering to prepare toiletry kits for residents of Crisis Ministries. All tie in to the Seven Principles. “No one person can do it alone on a soccer field,” states Small. “The game puts things in perspective—you have to lean on each other.”