Former Wisconsin hockey player Brittany Ammerman bought a soccer ball for a community outreach in Kenya and ended up founding a league for women there.
The Nikumbuke Soccer League started with a hockey player and a ball in 2013. Brittany Ammerman, a stand-out forward on the Wisconsin women’s hockey team and pre-med major, traveled to rural Kenya for a community outreach about women’s health. She happened to buy a soccer ball, thinking the local kids would be interested in pick-up games. But as the league’s site says, Ammerman soon found out the women she was there to teach were the ones who were most excited to play.
Ammerman won the NCAA’s 2015 BNY Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award for helping the league’s first round of fundraising and organizing. By teaming up with former U.S. Women’s National Team player Julie Foudy, the campaign ended up generating more than $30,000 in donations. The first game was played on June 14, 2014.
As 2015 draws to a close, Ammerman has bigger plans for the league. Now it’s about more than just the pure joy of playing soccer: The projects on tap include access to clean water and educational sponsorships, which means another round of fundraising.
The initial goal is $8,000, but Ammerman aims to double that amount. More money raised means more teams as well as providing water tanks to the women who play in the league, additional new gear (including a pair of sneakers for each player), the organization of the 2016 Nikumbuke World Cup, and more.
There are perks for donating. Ammerman was able to collect signed jerseys and more from both the soccer and hockey worlds for an auction. Up for grabs is a Meghan Duggan #10 Nikumbuke Nike jersey signed by the 2014 Sochi Olympic USA Women’s Hockey Team. On the soccer side, there are a couple of rewards including a Carli Lloyd signature, as well as a Heather O’Reilly #9 Nikumbuke Nike jersey signed by the entire 2015 U.S. Women's World Cup Team.
Ammerman answered a few questions from SI.com about the league, her experiences founding it, and the connection between hockey in America and soccer in Kenya.
Meg Linehan: Was there a communal thread of sports you found when you traveled out there, unexpected similarities between you playing in a rink in Wisconsin and the players involved in Nikumbuke?
Brittany Ammerman: I think the biggest unexpected similarity was the freedom the women felt playing soccer and the freedom I felt playing hockey. The women in Kenya do not play for fans or money, they play for themselves, their teammates, their families, their happiness. I could relate to that when I was playing at the University of Wisconsin last year. I had founded this soccer league, was studying pre-med, and had a number of things going on outside the hockey world. I understood that I needed to get the most out of my education and my opportunities as a female athlete on an athletic scholarship at UW. I could put my passions into a number of different things. And for my passion of hockey, I was playing for my teammates and my family; to make them proud. It was pure joy to play the sport of hockey like it was pure joy for these women to play soccer. I also would like to point out that the women and girls the Nikumbuke Soccer League works with are just like us. They want to work, they want to open businesses, they want to empower women. The young girls want to receive an education, want to go to high school, college. So I think on that end, we are very similar.
ML: Have you been surprised that the hockey world has embraced a project that is, at face value at least, about soccer?
BA: The bottom line of the league is we are providing women and girls the opportunity to participate in sport. We are providing women and girls a sense of empowerment. This is easily relatable to all women, especially those involved in sport. The reality is, soccer is an inexpensive sport compared to others. As we have seen, the women really just need a ball to play and, logistically, hockey just won’t work in sub-Saharan Africa! I expected the hockey world to embrace this project because it is about empowering women, educating women, providing opportunities for women, and ultimately providing the power of play.
ML: You’ve tapped Meghan Duggan, the captain of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team to provide a reward. Was there more to it than your Wisconsin connection?
BA: Duggan and I have always been somewhat close since she was my captain at Wisconsin my freshman year. She is a great leader, has always checked in to see how things are going with my medical school aspirations, the soccer league, life in general. She is also very well-spoken and a huge proponent and role model for women and girls in sports. I felt Meghan was perfect to help out with our nonprofit and it also keeps the soccer league linked to hockey. To have so many big-name female athletes promote the cause is so important. Right now, Julie [Foudy] is a board member for the league. We have Duggan helping with a signed jersey. Heather O’Reilly had a Nikumbuke jersey signed by the USWNT. Carli Lloyd has agreed to sign a couple of things. These will all be perks on our site. Then we also have Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams (who has founded Water Boys Org to bring clean water to Tanzania) willing to help on Twitter and link-up with the league. It’s so important to have male athletes start to hop onboard as well. We have quite a few other people in the athletic world that will be tweeting about our fundraiser as well.
ML: Nikumbuke has focused a lot on adult women. Was there something that appealed to you about working with women in this age range?
BA: The women in the Kenyan villages we work with are very powerful and inspiring. Once you meet them, you want to help in any way you can. You want to listen to them and see what they want for their villages and families. So that’s what I did. We talked to them, they asked for a soccer league, so I delivered. They are also the role models for the young girls in their villages. Many of the men are gone for months at a time working in the cities. This leaves the women to head the family. The girls now see their moms and aunts and even grandmothers playing soccer every week and they now want to play. It is contagious. Every year I go back to Kenya, I want to play. I don’t want to leave. There is something about these women that is so inspiring and hits the heart.
For further updates about the Nikumbuke Soccer League, follow Brittany Ammerman on Twitter.