Opening Up / "Ghana wins, and so do we"
I've been here in England since June 16 and pretty much glued to the World Cup. I was happy when the U.S. team tied England. Nonetheless, I complained to my younger son, Johnson, who played on a high school championship soccer team, that I would have preferred a clear and stunning goal against the U.K. instead of a goal achieved through the keeper's error.
Jonce told me off. "Mom," he said, "you take the shot. If it goes in, it's your point."
Watching Jonce play all those years ago and in recent years watching my grandsons play soccer at St. Luke's School in New Canaan, I've become a soccer fan.
Following the U.S./ U.K. tie, the U.S. also tied Slovenia. Then we beat Algeria and faced Ghana who beat us four years ago. We lost again. For me it went like this: I wanted us to win but I didn't mind losing to Ghana. Not at all the way England felt about losing to Germany -- not even close. A part of me wanted Ghana to win and that is because of Kofi Agyapong.
Kofi came to America from Ghana on a soccer scholarship to St. Luke's School in New Canaan three years ago as a sophomore. His family sold their farm to buy his ticket. Skinny-legged, he arrived with a knapsack on his back, no winter clothes, some bracelets woven by his mother which read, "I Love St. Luke's" and a smile that would dim the lights of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. He and Zach Lupica (grandson) also a sophomore, became friends.
Kofi plays soccer like no one we've ever seen on Connecticut fields. Talking with Headmaster Mark Davis during a game last fall, I learned, "Kofi is an exceptional artist and an A student. He has given the school far more than we have given him."
About the team, Zach, who played with him said, "We all play better because Kofi is there. He cares so much; we can't let him down." Last year, the St. Luke's soccer team won the league championship for the first time in the history of St. Luke's School.
It was soccer any time with Kofi. When Hannah Lupica, 11 years old and a new girl in fifth grade at St. Luke's, scored her first goal on the fifth grade girl's soccer team, Kofi was watching on the sidelines with Zach. Kofi leaped into the air, yanked off his school tie and waving it in circles, ran up and down the field chanting, "Han- nah! Han- nah!"
"It was soooo embarrassing," Hannah told her mother afterward, a grin plastered all over her face.
The Lupica family was in London at the time of the U.S. game against Ghana. Watching with a lot of other Americans, in a bar in Trafalgar Square called the Texas Embassy Cantina, they were feeling the same way I was. They were wanting America to win, wanting soccer to become a significant sport in our country, significant as it has been in our family's lives, but still, feeling that soft spot for Ghana, for Kofi, who has become such an important family friend.
In Mike Lupica's article the next day (New York Daily News, June 27, "Ghana On Top of the World") he wrote, "As I was watching Ghana beat the U.S. team on Saturday night, all I kept thinking is that I was watching a whole team of players like Kofi, especially at the end when the U.S. players chased them all over the field and could not take the ball away from them."
"In four years," Mike wrote, "[Kofi] will be playing in the World Cup himself, don't worry about that. He's that good. I stood on the sidelines all of his senior season and watched him do 10 things in a game from all over the field that sometimes made us all just laugh."
Kofi loves America, his American friends and his American family. Of course he rooted for Ghana; it's his home.
In a text he sent to Mike after the game, Kofi wrote, "`This wasn't just about Ghana and making Ghanaians proud. But also the host nation, South Africa. And Africa at large. This is something that gives hope and joy to a lot of Africans even though it was just 120 minutes or so of excitement.'"
"Unlike USA," he continued, "Africa has only soccer as a means of showing the world how powerful Africa is. Beating USA? It was pretty much like beating the world."
Ghana lost to Uruguay in a shoot-out in the quarterfinals.
The truth is until I met Kofi Agyapong, I never gave the country of Ghana a thought. I knew it was somewhere in Africa and probably very poor. Ghana is intensely on my radar now. Amazing how knowing just one remarkable young man can kick your mind wide open.
Cecily Stoddard Stranahan is a psychotherapist, retired, and an interfaith minister. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.