This week, SoccerNation had a chance to chat with recent high school graduate Ethan King, an incoming freshman soccer player at Butler University.
Ethan is the founder of Charity Ball, a humanitarian organization that gives high quality soccer balls to children around the world. The project started in the country of Mozambique, when Ethan was just 10 years old.
Now entering a new chapter in his young life, Ethan plans to continue his work with Charity Ball, taking the project to new heights as adulthood beckons. Doing your bit for charity is something that some do begrudgingly and others feel a strong need to do, if the latter sounds like you who don’t you consider leaving money to charity in your will?
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Ethan, thanks for joining us.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Tell us a little about the background of Charity Ball and how this project originally got started?
Ethan King (Charity Ball): It all started back in 2010. My dad leads a humanitarian organization involved with water rehabilitation in African countries called Vox United. Around that time, they had teams going back and forth to Mozambique. That year, I went on one of these trips. I was ten years old.
I’d already been an avid soccer player throughout my young life, and I brought along a ball on the trip. As my dad and his crew were working on the water wells in the various villages, I would be off messing around with my soccer ball, just juggling and dribbling around the dirt nearby.
I’d look up after a couple of minutes with the ball, and there’d be five kids who made their way towards me. We’d start playing a little keep away and just pass the ball around. Then I’d look up again, and it would double. Suddenly there’d be 20-30 kids wanting to kick the ball around. I quickly realized that word spreads fast in these villages.
I would take a minute to rest, and as more and more kids would come running over, I’d see that many of them had brought makeshift soccer balls of their own, often plastic bags wrapped in twine. That was when it really hit me.
These kids love the game just as much as I do. I could see it in their faces. I thought to myself, I’ve got at least seven or eight soccer balls back home in my garage. I can give this one away.
I gave a group of kids in Mozambique that soccer ball. That’s it, and it truly blossomed from there. It’s kind of incredible when you think of it that way, that something so small can grow into something so powerful.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): How did Charity Ball grow from there, and what did that specific experience do to inspire you as a young man, an American kid spending time in southeast Africa?
Ethan King (Charity Ball): That experience was a game changing moment in my life. It was a great experience in so many ways, and to have that experience as a ten-year-old was incredibly important.
I remember on the trip back home with my dad, I kept replaying and talking about that scene, the looks on the kids faces when I told them they could keep the ball. Giving that ball away gave me a jolt of energy I’d never felt before. I felt the power of that ball and what it could do.
I realized that with the life I had back home (in Michigan), and with the work that my dad was involved with in Africa, that I had the resources to keep giving back. I talked to some of my friends and got people on board with the idea of giving soccer balls to kids in Mozambique. I was coming up on my 11th birthday, and was basically cold calling people asking if they could help. I even developed a business strategy with the help of my dad, my uncle and some other family friends.
My idea was that I wanted to get 500 brand-new, high quality soccer balls back to Mozambique. I originally called it Project Charity Ball. People got involved, backed it with a passion, and got the project some attention internationally. More people heard about it and the growth was exponential.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): It’s still hard for a lot of people to believe just how young you were when this all came about. But lo and behold, a ten-year-old’s dream has blossomed into something very special.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): It’s funny, because it really did just start as a side project, a dream of a ten-year-old kid, as you said. As I got older though, it became something much bigger. Now it’s a full-fledged humanitarian organization, and I’m definitely taking the reigns. It’s an actual job now with a lot of responsibility attached, and I’m privileged to take part in every second of the work.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Who have been some of the key characters in helping you accomplish this growth, some of the folks who caught wind of what you were doing and joined forces with you?
Ethan King (Charity Ball): I wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for my dad. He was the reason I was in Mozambique in the first place, and in South Africa for a whole year prior. My whole family has been greatly supportive.
There were a couple of guys who jumped on board with the project relatively early. Their names are Brian Dunseth and Ben Hooper. They got behind what I was doing and put an article on the Original Winger website and got me some exposure through Bumpy Pitch. I can’t thank those guys enough for what they did. After they told their audience about me and the project, a bunch more people started reaching out, and we got them all involved.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): A lot of people have watched the documentary-short that came out on Charity Ball in 2014. (You can watch the 9 minute video HERE)
The piece featured Borussia Dortmund and Serbia center-back Neven Suboti?. How did that relationship come about, and what has it been like working with Suboti? and seeing him get involved with Charity Ball?
Ethan King (Charity Ball): This is one of my favorite little stories in this whole Charity Ball movement.
Neven actually contacted us, just straight through the “contact us” tab on our website. He sent a kind of vague email, saying he had some money he wanted to donate to our project. I remember seeing the email, and almost not believing my eyes. I had to leave for soccer practice right after I saw the email, so I asked my dad to send a response. My dad asked Neven to share a little more about himself. Neven’s response was something to the effect of “you can google me”. I still find that hilarious.
My dad and I ended up Skyping back and forth with Neven and he was completely serious about wanting to help us. He’d just heard about what we were doing from browsing the internet and stumbling across us.
I just remember kind of being in shock. I was fourteen, and pretty humbled by the whole thing. I mean, I’m playing with this guy’s likeness on FIFA in the morning, and then I’m Skyping with him in the afternoon. It was surreal.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Tell us about the tournament you guys designed. It was a focal point of the documentary-short and the images shown were truly magnificent.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): That was another highlight in the short history of Charity Ball, and one of the best experiences in my life. We ended up coming up with this idea of doing a tournament for kids in Mozambique, doing it in a traditional tournament style, with knockout stages, a final and everything.
We flew out to Mozambique and we were privileged to have the whole event filmed. To have other people around the world be able to see what we were doing was incredible, and so valuable to the growth of Charity Ball.
We had about 400 kids involved in the tournament. Neven got Adidas involved in the project, which made it so legit. Not only did every kid get a brand new Adidas soccer ball, but Neven also got Adidas to donate 400 sets of uniforms which all the kids got to keep. That was really cool. The teams were all outfitted in different club kits. Every player felt like they were a professional for that moment. All the people, men, women, and children came out for the games. There was a true stadium like atmosphere. We even had a trophy and medal presentation at the end. It was beautiful, and one of the experiences within all of this that I will never forget. We can’t wait to make it happen again.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): This project started in Mozambique, and it’s been centered around the southeast African nation ever since. Charity Ball has also become an international project, especially over the last couple years. Tell us about the movement, and how you see it spreading around the world.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): At first, the primary goal was just to utilize my dad’s organization and what they were doing to get soccer balls to kids in Mozambique. Now we want to get more balls to more kids around the globe.
The way we’ve spread over the last few years has actually been through people reaching out to us, very similar to how Neven got involved. So many people have contacted us saying that they want to take soccer balls to this place or that place, impoverished countries with kids in need. Through our website, people can now request to take 25 soccer balls to their destination. After we get the request, we do a little background research, and if it all clears out, we get them the balls and they can take them wherever they’re going. We’ve already sent soccer balls to more than 40 countries around the world.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): You used the word surreal earlier. It must be quite surreal seeing the amount of support you’ve received from young kids wanting to get involved with Charity Ball, thinking back to your mindset when you were just ten.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): That’s something that really strikes home for me. It makes me so happy seeing young kids join in our vision. We’ve had kids who have used their birthday parties to do fundraisers for Charity Ball. The project is about the kids in need, but it’s also taken on this new layer, giving kids with resources, kids who live first world lives an outlet to make a difference in the world. It creates a human connection, showing everyone just how similar we really are, and it all comes back to the game of soccer and the ball itself.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Tell us about your Grad Party this summer, and what you’re doing to raise significant funds for Charity Ball.
Ethan King (Charity Ball): When most kids in America graduate from high school, they have a party. They get gifts, money and such. I decided I wanted to do something to give back, so I turned my “Grad Party” into something bigger. I told everyone that for my graduation, I wanted them to donate to Charity Ball. I set a goal of $20 thousand in order to get 6000 kids in Mozambique clean drinking water. That’s just four wells worth of water. And of course I want to get all of those kids soccer balls. I started going through all my contacts in my phone, telling them what I’m doing. I got a couple of donations, and it just kept racking up from there. We are already to $10 thousand. I’m really trying to get all the money secured before school starts, and before my first season of college soccer at Butler. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I know we can pull it off.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Ethan, thank you so much for sharing your dream with us. How can fans of SoccerNation get involved with Charity Ball?
Ethan King (Charity Ball): I like to tell people that Charity Ball is an organization where you can help out on whatever level you’d like, using whatever you do best to help others. We had a young girl recently who reached out to us and told us that she’d started making her own jewelry in her arts & crafts class. She then sold the jewelry and donated that money to Charity Ball.
If what we’re doing really strikes home with you, please don’t hesitate to contact us. That goes for individual people the same as corporate sponsors. If you feel like you can help Charity Ball in becoming a household name, we want to have you on our team. We want to be a great charity in today’s world. It’s been an incredible journey and we are continuously working towards much more.
(Be sure to visit CharityBall.org and stay tuned to SoccerNation.com for more information on this ever-growing humanitarian project.)