By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 24, 2010
Katelyn Longino’s earliest soccer memory is running around on a field, seeing her parents in the stands and putting the ball in the net.
“I just remember scoring and having a good time out there,” said Longino, who has been playing since she was 4.
Later this month, Longino travels to South Africa with other U.S. players to represent the country at a friendly, fast-paced competition called Football for Hope. It is going on in the shadow of the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world.
Longino is part of the team of standout players selected by Soccer in the Streets, a nonprofit that uses soccer to teach leadership skills to young people. Some 450 young people a week participate in the Atlanta program.
“The kids themselves will have a life-changing, memorable experience. They will be the leaders they are meant to be,” said Jill Robbins, a longtime leader with Soccer in the Streets.
Longino plays soccer year around. In the fall, she plays for a club, AFC Lightning, and in the spring, she plays for her high school team, Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fayetteville. Longino got the ball in the net for Mercy’s team eight times last season even as she played as a defensive mid-fielder.
“It’s not really a scoring position, but I manage to make the best out of it,” said Longino, who is heading into her junior year.
The Longino family lives in College Park and attends St. Matthew Church, Tyrone, where Katelyn is an altar server.
Bill Schmitz, the athletic director at Our Lady of Mercy, called her a “quiet leader” who is “very demanding of her teammates while at the same time being very supportive and caring.”
“She is a very aggressive player with a commanding knowledge of the game and a very strong leg,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Danny Dorsel, the school principal, said, “Katelyn is a hard worker that takes her studies seriously. She makes other students around her better.”
In South Africa, the youth tournament is a competition, but it includes time for cultural activities and workshops. The 32 teams are mixed with girls and boys. There are no referees. The players settle any disagreements.
Three young people from Georgia are part of the U.S. youth team, hosted by Soccer in the Streets. Isaac Fonseca, 18, has been with Soccer in the Streets since 2008. He plans on going to college in the fall. Jose Fonseca, of College Park, is looking forward to the travel opportunities for the tournament.
Longino, who aspires to be an engineer, has watched nearly all of the World Cup matches except the games that start at 7 a.m. Her prediction: Argentina versus Spain in the finals.
Soccer continues to excite her even though she’s been playing for so long.
“You never know what’s going to happen next. You have to react to everything,” she said.
Many don’t view the U.S. as a soccer nation even though the women’s national team is ranked number one and the men hold the 14th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
“The girls have a good reputation. The men are getting there,” Longino said.