Urban Pitch resident pro freestyler Caitlyn Schrepfer shares her breathtaking experience from her trip to Jamaica while working with the Game of Life and Football for the World foundations.
Starting off the new year on a plane to Jamaica might just top my list of holiday activities. Not only was I going to perform at the halftime show of a celebrity soccer charity match, but I got to climb a waterfall to top it all off.
Questionably sane extracurricular activities aside, when I flew out to Jamaica for the annual Game of Life Charity Games, I only expected to attend the singular star-studded football event. What I got instead was a week full of eye-opening experiences and jaw-dropping natural beauty, the likes of which I truly have never seen anywhere else in the world.
The Jamaicans have such a pure love for the ball that was visible in the smallest children to the oldest adults. It was at the heart of their community in a way that made myself and my peers instantaneous friends. While halftime shows are a common part of being a professional freestyler, as are school performances and clinics, something about the vibrant energy of the Jamaican people made each and every one of those experiences as strikingly memorable, as if it was my very first performance all over again.
The cheers that rang throughout the stands and courtyard of the fields and school, and the little hands waving for a high five — these are the moments that remind me why I love performing so much.
During my stay in Jamaica, I spent time with Game of Life’s partner charity Football for the World, a non-profit that brings soccer equipment to countries such as Uganda and Mexico and donates to the local schools and programs. The Half Way Tree Primary School in Kingston was the site for Football for the World’s gear donation, and it was a truly humbling experience to see just how much that visit impacted the children there.
One of the most striking things I noticed was the distinct lack of girls that called themselves football players when first asked. However, after the freestyle demonstration and the introduction to the Football for the World team (mostly consisting of female college athletes), a far greater number approached us with excitement about the gear and the game.
The charity games were the centerpiece of not only this trip, but also the months of planning that the Game of Life team had put in leading up to this point. The event kicked off with a miniature youth tournament which painted a picture of youth soccer at a level that left me truly impressed, if not a little jealous of the skill I wish I’d had at that age.
Following the youth tournament, a matchup between females occupied the next portion of the day, with the Football for the World squad up against the widely successful Barbican FC women’s team. Barbican has not lost a game since 2011 — something which I can’t even begin to wrap my head around!
Barbican kept its streak alive, winning 1-0, and it was great to see girls’ soccer get the spotlight. It was also almost equally as hilarious to listen to the local Jamaican girls communicate with their teammates with absolutely no mercy and filter whatsoever.
Then it was time for the first of four shows I did that night, an extra of which was added on because the crowd got a bit too enthusiastic and ended up obscuring the view from the stands because they got too close to my show. As far as issues go, that’s one that I can’t say I mind too much!
The crowd was beyond enthusiastic, and it set the tone for what was arguably the main event, the Legends vs. Celebrities match. The game featured current and former Jamaican pros including Kemar Lawrence, Oniel Fisher, Darren Mattocks, Ricardo Gardner, Ian Goodison, Devon Williams, and Damian Lowe, as well as celebrities such as dancehall and reggae artist Christopher Martin.
In what was a fantastic display of football, the Legends ended up winning and wowing the crowd with a level of play that drew in each and every person in attendance, and had our bench cheering ourselves hoarse.
The rest of the time on the island was spent, one way or another, with the ball at our feet. From a pick up spot that was beautiful beyond the graffiti that littered the walls and showed the very communal nature of the sport, to an intense game of 5v5 that bled into an evening juggling with the locals on the shores of Hellshire Beach, simply having a ball with us seemed to be an open invitation into the Jamaican community.
Jamaica, both as an island and culture was breathtaking. I was left slightly heartbroken to leave it all behind at the end of my weeklong stay. In seven days I became so attached to the Football for the World team that I was there with, but also to each and every single one of the locals that extended their hand to us, and perhaps most of all the the members of Game of Life that were incredible beyond what words can describe. They reminded me that the ball is a much more powerful tool for change than we remember, slight language barriers or not. Wagwan everyone, and hopefully I’ll see you again soon.