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Soccer helping them realize goals

By YANG JUN in Guiyang and ZHAO RUIXUE | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-27 09:18
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Members of a girls' soccer team train at Yuanbao Primary School. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Two footballs, Nine Bends

Nestled amid a range of mountains, Yuanbao village has just one winding road leading to the outside world. Because of the bends in the winding road through the mountains, the road has earned the name "Nine Bends".

There are very few young adults in the village as most of them have left to earn a living in the cities. Yuanbao Primary School has about 300 students, half of them staying with their grandparents. The children hardly ever get a chance to venture far away from the mountains.

Forty-two-year-old Xu came to the school in September 2013, as a teacher volunteering to assist with rural education. He teaches Chinese to students of the third and sixth grades.

The school didn't have a playground until 2017.

Xu played with his students on an uneven ground in front of the school building.

In 2017, when somebody donated two footballs to the school, Xu began playing it with the students.

"At the beginning, they had no idea how to play the game, but they showed great interest," said Xu.

The two footballs were among the few pieces of sports equipment they had on the campus.

Some days later, schoolmaster Wang Guangwen managed to get a public welfare organizer to build a soccer ground for the school. Two months after the field came up, they began holding a sports festival for primary and junior middle school students in the county.

"Footballs, a playing field and then a sports festival, it was time to organize a soccer team next," said Xu.

In less than a week, 30 students applied to join the team. And their unofficial training began.

As a soccer fan, Xu has some basic knowledge about soccer. He spends a lot of time learning from videos.

He didn't expect the girls to play so well and win laurels for the school.

"The idea was to just play together and exercise. Besides, I wanted them to learn teamwork by playing soccer," said Xu.

But the girls surprised Xu during the county's sports festival by becoming champions among primary schools in the county.

"They demonstrated a tenacious spirit and a pure thirst to succeed," said Xu, adding that he was impressed by that.

Good performance in the games won recognition for the Yuanbao soccer team. Several players got admission into good junior middle schools in the county with their outstanding soccer playing ability.

Xu and Wang realized that soccer could give the children better chances of getting quality education. They started putting more efforts on developing the school's soccer team.

In 2019, the two applied successfully for their school to become a demonstration school for campus soccer and won more support for developing soccer courses from local education authorities and social organizations.

The school now has a new soccer ground, measuring 25 meters by 43 meters, which is large enough for the students to train in. They even have new jerseys. The school team has selected more students.

In addition to some 50 girls in the girls' team, there are 30 boys in the boys' team, accounting for one-third of the total number of students in the school.

"Some students have quit, but most others are slogging on. They have all the good qualities of Chinese women football players — they are strong, they like to train very hard and have an indomitable spirit," said Xu.

The students are proud to have become soccer players. The sport is helping them fulfill their dreams such as flying by aircraft and seeing the sea.

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