Arima in Trinidad and Tobago, known for the Larry Gomes Stadium that played host stadium to the 2001 FIFA U17 Men World Cup finals, is the second largest area of the three boroughs of Trinidad and Tobago. Now, 17 years later from that U17 World Cup that saw France lift a trophy and Trinidad and Tobago out in the group stages, Trinidad has glimmers of hope in their new generation of youth soccer.
AYSO Region 1450 in the town of Arima seems to be a talent spot for Trinidad and Tobago’s youth national teams, with two particular rising stars recalling their love of the game to have started with AYSO.
Players Kishon Hackshaw (18) and Joanna Kennedy (12), are more similar than they may know – both being standouts for Trinidad and Tobago’s youth teams, both from Arima, both playing soccer in AYSO Region 1450, and both players hailing from the tutelage of AYSO Area Director, Dale Toney.
Toney, Area Director for Trinidad and Tobago since 2003, is known for being very involved with his area – refereeing countless matches and making many away trips with the teams in his area.
“Dale never gave up on me. My mom will always remind me of the trials she went through in my earlier years where I use to take the ball and run around the goal post. Mr. Toney saw something in me and with words of encouragement and support guided me through this process, his passion for this organization is real,” recalls Kishon.
The two Trinbagonians can also thank their mothers for their success in AYSO, recalling being placed in the organization to interact with other kids their age and to develop their self-esteem. Years later it is evident that more than their self-esteem has developed.
“My experience with AYSO helped shape my development, giving me a solid foundation and teaching me the fundamentals of the game,” says Joanna. “One important aspect is the emphasis on good sportsmanship. The sessions every Sunday were also times to socialize with the other members of my football family and an opportunity to learn more.”
Learn more she did, as Joanna was invited to train with girls 15 – 18 years old while she was just 11 years old, which led to her being selected to the “Senior Team”. This meant that she was now training for the Secondary School Football League (SSFL) and INTERCOL (another secondary school league). These leagues all took place between September 2017 and December 2017 and that year Joanna and her squad went on to become the National Intercol Champions.
While Joanna was proving her skills in the secondary school leagues, Kishon was making a statement of his own. He was going through a grueling challenge in order to break through to the Trinidad and Tobago U17 National Team. He was being screened by the U17 coaching staff for a spot among hundreds of other talented young soccer players. Kishon’s plight didn’t end once he was chosen, training sessions were three times per week and a two-hour commute to the National Trinidad and Tobago Training Centre soon followed.
“Travelling to training was difficult for me – I must say it was challenging,” says Kishon. “But the love of the game and the opportunity to represent my country wearing the national colors was my inspiration to give my all.”
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, known for being the smallest country to ever qualify for a men’s World Cup in Germany 2006, have some hopefuls as future senior team members for both their men and women teams. These two prospects seem to have good heads on their shoulders, making them premiere examples of what it is to be a well-rounded athlete.
Already a few Trinbagonian soccer idols have paved paths of success, such as senior men’s national team star/Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molina and senior women’s national team standout/Virginia Commonwealth University soccer alumni Lauryn Hutchinson. This may give Kishon and Joanna an idea of where their hard work may take them.
When asked where he saw himself in the future in regard to soccer, Kishon said he has his sights on more than just the beautiful game.
“My passion is football (soccer), I love the sport. I see myself playing professional football. Presently, I consider myself a student/athlete. Having a strong academic background is important to me and my mom because I’ve learned that one injury can end your football dreams,” continued Kishon. “Presently I’m in school and working towards getting a scholarship, once that is accomplished the others will follow.”
Even though the pair are separated by six years, they have the same aspirations and are doing the necessary work to follow in the footsteps of Soca Warrior stars like Kevin Molina.
Kishon and Joanna’s hard work is paying off as Kishon has been invited to the U20 squad this year and Joanna is earning minutes with the Bishop Anstey Girls’ High School, making them a strong two-pronged attack on their respective sides of national soccer.
“I intend to ensure my academic performance is exemplary and my football skills continue to improve. My all-round development is of top importance so wherever I am, I can be an ambassador for the game and a role model for others,” says Joanna.
We thank Joanna and Kishon for being such great ambassadors for AYSO and awesome role models of perseverance and commitment to their dreams. We know whatever avenue they choose to pursue in their soccer and professional careers, they will be successful. We cannot wait to see what is next!