It is hard to believe that 2018 is almost over and the countdown to 2019 has already begun. I am always humbled and honoured by the privilege to listen and share the personal stories of sport diplomats, entrepreneurs, and icons through this space.
I must thank my editor for his continued encouragement and those persons who randomly thank me for the stories shared. God continues to use me as a vessel for which I am forever grateful.
My final story for 2018 is one that I share for its commonality with my own. It’s the dream of a boy from Quarry Street, Diego Martin who would go on to share the football field with the likes of international superstars.
Yohance Marshall was considered a standout player in the Secondary Schools Football League, winning titles with St Anthony’s College from 2002–2004 alongside future national players such as Kenwyne Jones, Jan-Michael Williams and Steve Sealy.
Although one of the youngest players on the squad, he earned his place on the starting team because of his remarkable work ethic, speed, and ability to read the game.
Much of his early success he attributes to his mother who forfeited an athletic scholarship in the United States, and spurred his desire to fulfil her unaccomplished dreams.
By the time he graduated from St Anthony’s, several US universities were keen on recruiting him. He chose the University of South Florida, where he would demonstrate leadership, captaining his team throughout his college career to NCAA Division 1 round of 32, sweet 16, and elite 8 finishes in successive seasons.
Marshall’s feats on the field gave him ‘All American, and Big East’ player honours. Off the field, he successfully attained a BA in Mass Communication, and minors in Leadership and International Relations.
“I matured a lot during my university years. I had to learn to be independent, prepare my own meals, and manage my time as there was nobody to do it for me.”
Joining La Galaxy
On completion of his degree in 2009, he was among the favourites expected to join a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. He entered the MLS Player Combine as an almost certain draft pick. Yohance believes one mistake during a crucial game cost him the opportunity to be selected in the draft, and the possibility of securing a lucrative financial commitment as a drafted player.
Tears however soon turned to triumph as he was personally contacted by LA Galaxy’s head coach Bruce Arena. There was a feeling of excitement, and relief at being afforded a contract with the team, and it felt amazing as a young player to share the dressing room with international players like Landon Donovan (US) and David Beckham (England).
“Personally, I was not a fan (Beckham) before he became a teammate, but when I experienced his professionalism, work ethic, and his commitment to his craft I was converted. We would run fitness drills together, and he mentored me as a young player. ”
Marshall’s MLS dreams commenced with a lot of frustration. While he experienced great success at collegiate level, the transition to playing professionally saw him left out of the Galaxy for most of his first year.
It took a tremendous toll on him emotionally as he saw players whom he thought were not necessarily better than he was get opportunities to make mistakes, and take chances.
Can Bou Play Foundation
However, another breakthrough came and in 2010 he got his first Senior Men’s team call to represent T&T. Yohance spent two years in the United States, and then went on to play professionally in Thailand and Myanmar.
In 2017, a group of local professional players joined together in the off-season to train and maintain their fitness. What started as a small group blossomed, and conversations sparked about players giving back to their communities.
In March 2018, the Can Bou Play Foundation (@canbouplay on social media or firstname.lastname@example.org) was born out of a desire to give back to the community, help young men become better fathers, while reaching out to persons with disabilities through the power of sport.
The US Embassy came on board through the Sport Diplomacy Soccer AssisTT programme, and has partnered with the non-governmental organisation during the year for a week of coaching and mentoring hundreds of youths throughout Trinidad.
“We came together as professional football players, realised we have an impact, a voice, and we wanted to give back to our communities. We have been going into the various communities and sharing a little knowledge, doing mentorship programmes and clinics.”
Looking forward to the future, Yohance is enthusiastic as he has co-founded an organisation that allows him to make a contribution to T&T, and he is also expecting the birth of his first daughter in 2019.
As we enter a new year, I want to share my desire for you: your destiny is made up of seemingly insignificant moments, experiences, and encounters. Your today is connected to your tomorrow, so maximise each opportunity and relationship that comes your way. Happy New Year!
Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.