For Rovel “Steve” Sparkes, soccer isn’t just a sport, it’s a language.
Growing up in West Kingston in Jamaica, soccer was everything to Steve. He and his neighborhood friends even started their own soccer club.
But at age 16, he and his father packed up and headed for the United States. Soccer, once a sport he played daily, was not nearly as popular in his new country.
“The transition culturally was, you know, challenging,” he says. “You just didn’t have the common cultural sport.”
An athlete at heart, Steve adapted to his new surroundings and learned how to play sports that were more popular in America at the time, like basketball. But even as he got older, his passion and love for soccer did not fade.
After working in the airline industry for many years and utilizing the benefits the job offered, Steve got the chance to travel the world. His destinations of choice were places like Italy, Brazil and Germany; all places chosen because of their passion for the sport that he too loved.
“I did that for many years which really and truly gave me that passport… to really see the world and travel the world.” And what impressed Steve the most from those journeys was the power soccer had to bring people from different backgrounds together.
He had seen it work many times overseas, and he thought it could work in his hometown of Oakland.
So, on the way home from a trip to Germany to watch the 2006 World Cup, Steve spent the trip home brainstorming and making plans for what would become My Yute Soccer just two years later.
So in 2008 with the help of his friends from his adult league club soccer team, Steve held his first My Yute camp. Since starting the camp seven years ago, Steve and his team have held multiple camps each year, depending on the success of their annual Jamaican Jerk Cookoff Fundraiser in Oakland.
The two aspects of the camp that Steve is particularly passionate about are making sure that the coaching is high quality and keeping it free for any and all kids. And his reason for making sure the camps are free is a personal one.
In his younger years after playing on a U19 team that went on to win everything, the team got the opportunity to go to Germany. But due to the financial burden of the trip, Steve could not afford to go.
“That just stays. Literally stays.”
And Steve recognizes many kids in the area where he holds his camp face the same dilemma.
“A lot of kids get locked out here because, not because they cannot play, it’s because their parents can’t afford it.”
Even though coordinating the annual cook-off fundraiser and usually multiple camps seems like a lot of work to those on the outside, Steve disagrees.
“For me, it’s not work,” he says. “I feel like I finally got to do my passion.”