For the Love of the Game

By: Erin Callahan

Mamadou Barry slips on his white home jersey and heads out to the pitch with his teammates. After much anticipation and hard work, he has never been more excited to play this big game against Greensboro College. Warming up helps him get into his groove as the fans begin to fill the stands and the clock notches closer to game time. His cleats are laced up tightly as he is fine-tuning his passes, shots, and footwork for the beginning whistle.

As the game starts, Greensboro has the lead going into the second half. It is 1-0 and because of Barry’s respectable play in the first half, the coaches gave him ample time in the second. As the second half clock began, the fans were cheering and ready for a comeback. So the Christopher Newport University men’s soccer team grabbed ahold of some momentum and started down the field.

Barry moved to the center of the field in order to receive a pass from one of the defenders. As he turned with the ball, he could see plenty of space for him to use his sharp speed to drive through. As he ran towards the goal he passed it off to one of his teammates by playing a piercing pass on the ground splitting two defenders finding his teammate in a great position to shoot. The score was tied 1-1 and the team ended up winning 2-1 off of a brilliant shot from a Captain.

But before Barry’s soccer career took off at CNU, he experienced a transition most people never have to make.

Barry was born in the Ivory Coast, in the capital of Abidjan, where he spent the first 6 years of his life. Here, soccer was always a tremendous aspect of the social culture. The Ivory Coast National Team was full of talented athletes, which led the squad to a lot of success. Having players like Didier Drogba helped the team to many wins, which made soccer an object of nationalism in the Ivory Coast.

Barry started playing soccer at a very young age. “I never recall actually making a decision to start playing the game, it was almost like I have been submerged by it,” said Barry. “As a young boy, I simply played because that was what everyone else did.”

It may not be the most romantic story, but he came to love the sport and everything it had entailed. From the attacking end and defensive end, Barry loved every second of being on the pitch. However, his real passion came from the neighboring country of Senegal, where his family migrated in order to avoid imminent crossfire from the Ivorian Civil War of 2002. “The move was not easy,” said Barry. “My family faced hard times due to many factors including, the recurring, but necessary absence of my parents, constant relocation, and financial limitations.”

Barry was a war refugee, but soccer became his refuge.

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In the photo above, Barry is on the right playing soccer in Senegal. 

Soccer was the way in which Barry found significant friendships, and also made the socioeconomic obstacles seem trivial. “Soccer gave me hope. It became my dream to make it out by playing professionally.” Due to this dream, Barry began to play as much as he possibly could. Along with this, he watched his favorite player, Ronaldinho, who seemed to have a similar story. This player was very young and pushed passed the impediments that were in front of him. Barry looked up to this player and wanted to be just like him, but make his own story.

Since Barry wanted to play more, he had to find a place to pursue his passion. So, he started playing in the streets with a motley group of neighborhood kids who hung around in the area. Most of them were older than Barry, crude in character and reluctant to include new people in their circle. Together, these kids formed an unofficial club. This team often played another unofficial neighborhood team called “Air France City.” Games always ended in violent wrestling and fistfights.

“I managed to incorporate myself into the group and made some interesting friends, who contributed to the shaping of my brash and volatile personality at the time.”

When the group did not have the opportunity to borrow a ball from one of the more fortunate boys, they would just play with crushed soda cans or small rocks. Then they would set up goals with shoes or sticks, or use the landscape, such as trees, to use as a post.

Barry played barefoot the majority of times, along with the other kids. Despite the fact that cleats could not be afforded, they liked the way the ball felt on their feet. It was more natural. “It may be the effect of possibly confused nostalgic sentiments, but despite the circumstances in Senegal, I sometimes think back that those were the best 5 years of my life.

Barry and his family moved to the United States in 2007 in order to pursue a better standard of living, but the vast differences in culture was a hard adaptation to make. Barry spoke no English and he had only ever been exposed to the American language due to television shows. “I never felt that I had a hard time making friends thanks to soccer, but I struggled dealing with the differences between familial, personal, and American values, which often became overwhelming.”

Barry’s mother was always aware of his passion for soccer ever since he was a young boy, so she took it upon herself to make sure he could play in their new home in Virginia. She signed him up for a rec league for Loudon Soccer Club even though she could barely afford it.

“Although my mom was almost never present at my games throughout my soccer career, she remains my strongest support because of the amazing sacrifices she made for me to be able to run up and down a field and kick a ball.”

Barry played about 3 years of rec soccer until he moved on to play travel for the Loudon 95 Red team where he played for 5 years and made some of the best memories of his life before coming to CNU. Teamwork was what led the team to so much success including becoming the first Loudon club to ever win a State Cup, Disney title in 2012, and be ranked nationally at #4.

Now, as a junior in high school, Barry was at the peak of his club career and it was time to look into further education and an opportunity to play at the next level. He was very interested in Division I schools like William and Mary and Holy Cross. Never did Barry consider playing soccer at CNU until very late in the recruitment process due to his fixation on wanting to play at the high level of collegiate sports.

“I was a good player, but I was not exceptional enough to finalize a satisfactory position at either of the schools I was looking to play at,” said Barry.

After doing a little bit of his own research on in state schools, Barry decided that CNU was the best fit amongst any other. He ended up contacting the coach and luckily he had previously seen him play while scouting Jimmy Grace, one of Barry’s closest friends and teammates.

Barry was offered the opportunity to walk on in the spring of his freshman year.

“My first semester at CNU was the least exciting simply because I was unable to play at a competitive level. I joined the club team in order to keep sharp, but it was not the same. It was tough going to games in the fall, but watching Jimmy gave me even more motivation to play my best during the spring.”

Finally, the time came for Barry to try out for the team. He began to practice and lift with the varsity squad to prepare for the spring fundraiser game against William and Mary. Barry channeled his motivation to play the most gritty and passionate soccer he has ever played in order for the coaches to consider him for the spot.

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A week before the game, Barry was offered a permanent spot on the team. He said, “I was ecstatic at the idea and possibility to play four more years of the game I loved and owed so much to alongside my best friend.”

Barry’s best friend, Jimmy, has loved playing with him as a friend and a teammate. He says, “Mamadou is always joking around in the locker room and keeping the mood light, but when it’s game time he is very focused and ready to go. On the field, he is constantly talking and letting others know who is around them and what options they have available. One of his favorite phrases is ‘communication is key’. It’s his go-to saying when we are warming up or about to start the game. ‘Communication is key.’”

“It’s definitely fun playing with Mamadou,” said another teammate, Hunter Johnson, a sophomore midfielder. “I had played with him briefly before we came to CNU and enjoyed the way he just has fun with soccer, like he doesn’t ever forget why he plays because he simply just loves it. He also has a serious side though and he helps lead on the field by making sure that while having fun we all get our jobs done. Also, he isn’t afraid to make fun of himself when he makes mistakes, so it keeps everyone laughing and sort of allows for a good atmosphere on the team!”

To this day, Barry carries the same work ethic that he initially entered the team with and has established himself as a respectable player on the team. This upcoming season is now his third and he wishes to make a significant impact after a rather disappointing run last season.

Althouh Barry has the same work ethic, he plays for new reasons than he did in the Ivory Coast. His dream of playing at the professional level is over as he has realized his limitations while developing as a player, but in a sense, his dream is alive as he plays at CNU.

“I hope I can look back on these years as I move on to focus on other career goals and remember the nights I spent under the bright lights on the pitch and in front of awesome crowds at this school.”

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