Kicking across Carolina
UNC students combine soccer, religion
April 08, 2012 3:24 AM
Despite their religious background, Sasha Seymore, Dylan Simel and Ahmad Saad share one passion — soccer.
Despite their different beliefs, they are on the same team — spreading the word about soccer and unity.
Seymore and Simel played soccer at New Bern High School. Now, they are freshmen roommates at UNC.
Saad plays soccer on UNC’s club team with Seymore.
Seymore is a Christian, Simel is Jewish and Saad is Muslim. The three of them formed a friendship, which started through soccer.
“We met through soccer,” Seymore said. “I met Ahmad through soccer, Dylan met Ahmad through soccer. When we became friends, our religious background wasn’t an issue at all.”
Together, the trio plans on dribbling soccer balls from Asheville to Atlantic Beach.
That’s more than 400 miles and more than three weeks of their time.
The cause is to make people aware that individuals with different perspectives in the world can co-exist and be friends.
“It’s about the three religions coming together, putting aside their religious differences, not saying there were religious differences between the three of us, but it’s more about the global aspect,” Simel said. “If you have three religions on one soccer team, their object is to score a goal. They are not looking at religions, they are looking at each other as teammates. That is what we are looking to spread.”
Seymore, Simel and Saad are dribbling soccer balls to raise donations for three organizations — Soccer for Peace (in New York City), Maccabim Association (Isreal) and the Peres Center for Peace (Isreal).
Those are organizations that bring kids of different backgrounds together to play sports, including soccer.
“We just started looking online at different organizations,” said Seymore. “All three of them had the same idea we were looking for – that soccer can be used as a vehicle for peace.
“Then we were thinking about what we can do to help.”
They will start in Asheville and dribble along the Interstate 40 route, but not necessarily on I-40. The route will take them on back roads, parallel to I-40.
Along the way, they plan on stopping at a church, temple or mosque to spend the night or talk to people about their mission.
They are hoping to dribble a soccer ball anywhere from 20 to 25 miles a day.
“We are not going to be stopping in big cities every single day, but we are planning on stopping at six or seven places along the way,” Simel said. “Every stop, we are going to stop at a Mosque, or a Temple, or a Church, and we are going to talk about what we are doing. It doesn’t have to be just religious groups. We can talk to soccer organizations, schools, anywhere we can talk, we will talk.”
Seymore, Simel and Saad will start their journey the day after final exams in early May. They hope to be completed before the start of June.
They are in the process of receiving donations and support for their organizations.
They already caught the attention of Eurosport, one of the premier soccer sponsors.
Eurosport is sponsoring the three and helping them out with shoes, soccer balls and t-shirts.
Seymore said Eurosport is printing out around 500 t-shirts for them to sell for their cause. They are searching for more corporate sponsors, as well.
“We think that’s the point of this, is that it shouldn’t matter if you are a Christian, Jewish or Muslim,” Seymore said. “We can all be united around certain common goals that we all have.”
Launching the idea
Seymore, Simel and Saad were eating lunch at the Ram’s Head Diner on the campus of UNC when the idea to dribble across the state became a realistic goal.
Simel, who initially came up with the idea, suggested dribbling across the country.
“They looked at me, and then immediately shot me down,” Simel said. “Then I was like, ‘hey, what about North Carolina?’”
The discussions continued and the three continued to weigh the pros and cons.
“We had another one of our friends with us and he was like, ‘No way, you can’t do that.’ And he told us why we can’t,” Seymore said. “For about a half hour, he listed things that we couldn’t do and what would go wrong.
“Everything that he listed, we found a way that we could do. After that conversation, we couldn’t think of any obstacle we couldn’t get around. We team-huddled, chest-bumped and said, ‘let’s do this.’”
So what is their expectation after the quest is finished?
“We’ve had that question before and we really don’t know how to respond to that,” Seymore said. “When we started talking about it, we were like, ‘this is going to be cool to go across North Carolina.’ We had no idea how big it would get. Now that it’s getting bigger and people are starting to hear about it, we are not sure.”
The rest of the story
When Simel met Saad, he never thought about Saad’s religious background.
The only thing he noticed was his character and passion for soccer.
While there are many racial and prejudice issues in the world, Simel said the point of their mission is to make people aware that three different religions can join forces for positive purposes.
“We are not pushing our religions on each other,” Simel said. “We have no political agenda whatsoever. It’s more about the fact that these three religions can co-exist. We are using soccer as a way to break down the traditionalists and say that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can get along and be friends. This is about trust, putting down your guard and playing soccer.”
Seymore said it’s a challenge, but in the end will be a rewarding accomplishment.
“We are quite certain that after about 20 miles a day, we won’t be as super excited about it as we are now,” Seymore said. “Currently, we are real excited about it. We think that the cause we are fighting for is so cool. To be able to do something about it, it’s going to be a great experience.”
Seymore said his uncle will be driving around in the area in case there are any issues.
Simel added that, with three of them, they will be able to push each other throughout.
“We know there are a lot of steps to think about, but we are taking it one step at a time, one mile at a time, one day at a time,” Simel said. “We are not going to think about it like, ‘We are halfway through and have 200 miles to go.’
“I’m not saying we are going to be able to keep up the conversation for three weeks straight, but we are going to push each other and we are going to be supportive. We are all going to have a good time because that’s what it’s all about.”
They expect to finish their cross-state adventure by May 28.
Simel said its going to be physically draining, but all three of them will be mentally prepared.
“That’s the most important thing,” Simel said. “You can train all you want, but if you don’t believe in it or in the goal of what we are doing, then your heart is not going to be in it. Our hearts are in it, we are passionate about it and we feel real strongly about it.”
For more information or to offer a donation, visit their web site at kickingacrosscarolina. com. All donations are tax deductible.
“We really think our idea is cool,” Seymore said. “More than donations, we are hoping for people to spread the word about it and about what we are doing.”
Adam Thompson can be reached at 252-635-5669 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Adam on Twitter @Adam_matic.