Eugene Harmon, a native of Liberia, coaches a group of kids at his Columbus Astro Soccer Club at Nafzger Park on Sept. 30. Harmon, a former college soccer player, started a soccer academy in Liberia that encourages kids to put a heavy focus on schoolwork in order to play.
Eugene Harmon grew up playing soccer barefoot on the street of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia in West Africa.
As kids, he and his friends did not have fancy gear or a well-manicured soccer pitch. Collecting large rocks as goalposts and creating lines and markings out of sticks, Harmon said the sport taught him not to give up easily.
Years of practice paid off. When he moved to the United States in 2009 to pursue higher education, a soccer coach at Bucks County Community College in eastern Pennsylvania invited him to join the college’s soccer program and offered him a scholarship. He ultimately completed his associate degree in computer science in four years.
Now, living on Columbus’ East Side and earning his living as an IT specialist, the 33-year-old wants to give back to his community.
Two years ago, he started a soccer program called the Zion Astro Football Academy (zionastro.com) in his home country to remotely mentor about 60 Liberian children ranging in age from 12 to 15. So far, Harmon said he has paid tens of thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to keep the program running.
“The youth in Liberia had no opportunity and no one to direct them to the right path,” Harmon said. “Soccer is the most-popular sport in Africa, so I decided to use it as an instrument to get the kids’ attention and push them to stay in school.”