For most 16-year-olds, kicking a soccer ball around with a bunch of grade-schoolers on a bitter-cold February afternoon probably doesn’t sound like a great way to spend a Sunday, but Ashland High junior Mya Elder-Hammond isn’t like most 16-year-olds.
The two-sport standout who’s hoping to land an athletic scholarship from an NCAA Division I or Division II soccer program in the coming months took a day off from her busy training schedule Sunday to teach some local girls and boys soccer fundamentals at Walter A. Phillips Field. The camp was more than a few how-to drills mixed with the token scrimmage, however — in fact, it doubled as an important fundraiser.
Lightly-used cleats and donations were collected by Elder-Hammond and her assistant coaches. The donations will be used to purchase soccer balls, which Elder-Hammond will, along with the cleats, take with her to Grenada in July. There, she’ll join forces with Southern Oregon University head women’s soccer coach Jenni Rosenberg to run a camp organized by a nonprofit. When Elder-Hammond and Rosenberg fly back to the U.S., the cleats and balls will stay in the island country in the Caribbean, where most of the children play sans shoes.
“I’ve never been out of the country, actually,” Elder-Hammond said. “I’m so excited. The only thing I’m worried about is making sure the balls get there because (Rosenberg) said that the people at customs wanted to take the balls from her (during last year’s trip). They wanted to keep them for themselves.”
Airport suspense aside, Elder-Hammond said hearing of Rosenberg’s trip last summer inspired her to pitch in, which is why she decided almost immediately to begin fundraising.
“I have everything I need in Ashland, but those kids don’t,” she said. “They don’t have soccer cleats. I can go walk down the street and get a ball, easily. Everything’s very supplied here, but they don’t have the opportunity to get cleats and to get balls that last them for a while.”
What is she expecting in Grenada?
“I have no idea,” she said.
Sunday’s camp was only the most recent fundraiser for Elder-Hammond’s upcoming trip. She started calling and emailing family and friends soon after deciding to join Rosenberg, who has known Elder-Hammond since shortly after being hired by SOU in 2013. Some agreed to pledge a set amount of money for every goal Elder-Hammond scored, others pledged for every assist. One offered to donate to Elder-Hammond’s cause if her team, the AHS girls varsity soccer squad, won 10 games or more. The Grizzlies delivered, beating South Albany in a Class 5A play-in game for win No. 10, a victory that turned out to be their last of the season.
As the team’s most dynamic playmaker, Elder-Hammond’s goal and assist numbers proved to be a boon for the children in Grenada. Heading into Sunday’s camp she had already raised $1,500 — $90 of which came from two young boys who gave Elder-Hammond all the money from their piggy banks.
To promote the camp, which did not have an entry fee, Elder-Hammond and a friend created flyers that were distributed to every school in Ashland. The old-school promotion worked. On Sunday, 30 boys and girls ages 6 to 14 showed up at Phillips Field. Many of them donated to Elder-Hammond’s cause — the haul included enough cleats to fill two large buckets.
Working out with a group of Rosenberg’s SOU players recently, Elder-Hammond explained that she’d be leading a soccer camp to raise money for Grenada and asked if any of them would be willing to help out.
“Everyone raised their hand,” Elder-Hammond said.
So along with high school teammates Virginia Cotton and Olivia West, Elder-Hammond had at her disposal 14 SOU players to assist her during the camp in addition to Rosenberg.
“(Elder Hammond’s) easily one of the hardest-working players I’ve ever dealt with, especially at that age,” Rosenberg said. “She on her own will text me, ‘Hey, can we go out training?’ I have pictures of us training when it’s snowing. She’s out there, she works hard, there’s never a moment when she lets down. The fact that this was even a thought of hers to do on her own (is impressive). She heard the story that I came back with and she was like, ‘I want to do that, I want to help.’ Now that shows her character as well. She’s a pretty incredible kid.”
The camp turned out to be a bigger commitment than perhaps any of the camp coaches realized once the snow started falling, but Elder-Hammond called an audible and sent the youngest campers into Mountain Avenue Gym for some scrimmaging while the older kids stayed at the field to work on their skills.
Elder-Hammond will run one more camp at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford this spring which she hopes will bring in more donations. The more money she raises, she notes, the more balls she’ll be able to buy, although she’s still figuring out exactly which ball to purchase in bulk.
“I found this one that didn’t need a pump, but it felt too hard so we have to go back to the drawing board,” she said.
Though Elder-Hammond has one year of high school remaining, organizing the camps and raising the money for Grenada will end up counting as her senior project. It’s an assignment she’s thoroughly enjoyed.
“I love soccer so much,” she said, “and I want to share what I have with others.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.