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Bernard Kamungo a shining example of what a kid from a refugee camp can accomplish

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Bernard Kamungo a shining example of what a kid from a refugee camp can accomplish

The global refugee population topped 16.1 million in 2015, the highest number in more than two decades and larger than the populations of 120 countries, according to the United Nations.

One of those refugees was a skinny boy named Bernard Kamungo, who, for the first 14 years of his life, knew of nothing outside the teeming camp in western Tanzania where he was born to displaced Congolese parents fleeing decades of war in their homeland.

Then a lifeline appeared. His family was approved for resettlement in the U.S. and less than a decade after escaping the camp for a home in Abilene, Texas, Kamungo hasn’t just grown into a man, he has become one of the best soccer players in his adopted country. Not only has the FC Dallas midfielder played for the U.S. national team, but he has hopes of suiting up in the Olympic Games this summer.

“That was a dream, man, I won’t lie to you,” Kamungo said of the day his family left the camp. “Being able to get out of a refugee camp and come to the U.S. is something that I wanted for so long. So when I heard of us coming to the U.S., it was unbelievable. It’s a good feeling I’ll take with me my whole life.”

But that was just the first step on a long and arduous journey. When Kamungo arrived in Abilene, a place he had not previously heard of, he spoke Swahili and French but no English. Soccer, one of the few things he brought with him from the camp, proved to be the icebreaker.

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“Growing up, the only thing I had in front of me was a soccer ball,” Kamungo remembers.

In the Nyarugusu camp — with more than 150,000 people, one of the largest refugee resettlements in the world — the term soccer ball was more a concept than a reality since the ones Kamungo used were often made from wadded up bags or cloth wrapped around inflated condoms and medical gloves.

Yet that was good enough to provide a temporary break from the monotony of life there.

“There wasn’t much to do,” he said. “As soon as I started walking, I just loved the game, loved kicking a ball. At the same time, it was a way for me to get away from a lot of a lot of stuff, just kind of connect and keep my head together.

“It never crossed my mind that if I played these games, it might come and help me in the long term.”

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In Nyarugusu, Kamungo and his family of eight shared a room in a shack with no electricity or plumbing. Food was always scarce, the dirt spaces between the camp’s endless rows of shacks served as a playground, and planning for the future meant thinking no further ahead than tomorrow.

“Not a lot of stuff to remember,” he said. “Every single day I’d wake up and do the same thing over and over.”

FC Dallas forward Bernard Kamungo moves the ball during a match against the Seattle Sounders in October.

(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)

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Kamungo isn’t the first soccer standout, or even the first potential Olympian, to emerge from the monotony, squalor and desperation of a refugee camp. Alphonso Davies, a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich and a World Cup starter for Canada, was born in a camp in Ghana, then emigrated to Edmonton with his family when he was 5. And distance runners Lopez Lomong, Abdihakim Abdirahman and Charles Jock are camp survivors who represented the U.S. in the Olympics or World Athletics Championships.

Their success doesn’t surprise Sara-Christine Dallain, the executive director of iACT, a Southern California-based humanitarian nonprofit that has used soccer to teach teamwork, respect, responsibility and pride to more than 43,000 children in refugee camps around the world.

“There’s so much potential,” she said. “Just because children or families have been forced to flee their homes because of war and conflict doesn’t mean that they do not have their own dreams and aspirations. In fact, these children are so motivated to dream beyond the confines of their camp and to dream [of] a life beyond war and conflict in refugee camps.

“Soccer creates an opportunity for children to work towards achieving that dream.”

Living in a camp, Dallain said, also provides a harsh sense of perspective because nothing those children will face on a playing field or a track will be tougher than what they faced as refugees.

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“People who are living in a refugee camp are resilient, right? They have to every day make decisions and determine and figure out how to survive,” she said. “That strength, the mental toughness to survive and to rebuild your life is there and probably translates over to someone who’s becoming an athlete.”

Once he arrived in Abilene, Kamungo’s skills quickly earned him a spot on his middle and high school soccer teams, where he was the district’s offensive MVP and midfielder of the year. On the weekends he competed in adult pickup games.

Then he nearly tripped over the next step up the soccer ladder.

Simply trying out for an elite club team in central Texas costs as much as $500, a fortune for a refugee family struggling to build a new life in a new land. Eventually Kamungo’s brother Imani found an open tryout with the developmental team for MLS club FC Dallas. Kamungo impressed enough to be invited back for additional auditions and in March 2021, just weeks before the end of his senior year, he signed a professional contract.

FC Dallas forward Bernard Kamungo controls the ball during a match against CF Montreal in March.

FC Dallas forward Bernard Kamungo controls the ball during a match against CF Montreal in March.

(LM Otero / Associated Press)

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A year later, he led North Texas SC, Dallas’ MLS Next Pro affiliate, with 16 goals, earning his MLS debut — and a new four-year contract — that summer.

Nine months later, he was back in Africa, called up to the Tanzanian national team for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Niger. He didn’t play, though, clearing the way for the newly minted U.S. citizen to join the U.S. U-23 team for a pair of friendlies last October. He notched assists in both games and in January he started for the senior national team against Slovenia in San Antonio, 250 miles from his parents’ home in Abilene.

“This is like, every child’s dream,” he said. “If you become a professional soccer player, you always want to represent your country. So for me to be able to do that was a big honor.”

Yet the Olympic part of that dream might be receding. Kamungo has started only twice for FC Dallas since the middle of March and was left off the roster for the Olympic team’s June training camp, the final one before the roster for Paris will be chosen.

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The fact he was even in the conversation and not in a refugee camp is reason enough to celebrate.

“I’m thankful to get that chance,” Kamungo said. “I’m just happy for every second.”

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the “Corner of the Galaxy” podcast.

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Christian Pulisic, Folarin Balogun score as Team USA takes down Bolivia in Copa América opener

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Christian Pulisic, Folarin Balogun score as Team USA takes down Bolivia in Copa América opener

The United States men’s national soccer team took care of its first Copa América opponent on Sunday night in a 2-0 victory over Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Christian Pulisic and Folarin Balogun found the back of the net as Team USA dominated Bolivia throughout the 90 minutes on the pitch. 

The U.S. was looking to make a statement in this Copa América, and taking an early lead against Bolivia, a team they were expected to beat on Sunday night, was the objective. 

Folarin Balogun (20) of the United States is defended by Jesus Sagredo of Bolivia during the first half at AT&T Stadium on June 23, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (John Todd/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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Pulisic, the USMNT veteran, was the one who made it happen with just over two minutes gone in the match after the Stars and Stripes were awarded a corner kick.

Instead of sending a cross into the box, Pulisic made a short pass to Timothy Weah, who started to make his way toward the net. He dropped it to his right for Pulisic, who decided to take his first strike of the tournament toward the net, and it couldn’t have been better. 

Pulisic, trying to bend it from right to left, got the perfect height on the ball as he watched it sail over Bolivia’s goalkeeper and into the right side of the net. 

EURO 2024 DAILY RECAP: GERMANY, HUNGARY CLOSE OUT GROUP A WITH STOPPAGE TIME STUNNERS

The U.S.-heavy crowd was raucous as Pulisic celebrated his 30th international goal of his career with his teammates. 

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The first half was slow from there, but things picked up again late when Pulisic got a through ball and ran quickly with 22-year-old Folarin Balogun in stride with him on his left. Pulisic dropped a pass to Balogun, who was trying to work against his Bolivia defender one-on-one.

Christian Pulisic kick

Christian Pulisic of the United States kicks the ball during the Copa América 2024 Group C match with Bolivia at AT&T Stadium on June 23, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

After stepping to his left, Balogun drove a shot low, and it went through the defender’s legs and got past the keeper, who couldn’t stretch far enough for the save. 

Balogun’s 44th minute goal was the fourth of his international career, and it was all the offense the U.S. would need to come away with the victory.

There were multiple chances in the second half to tack on more, especially when Ricardo Pepi, who subbed in, had two chances right near the goal line, but Bolivia’s keeper made two incredible saves to keep the score intact.

But the United States was all smiles when the final whistle sounded, knowing they got the job done and earned the first three points of the tournament. 

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Christian Pulisic celebrates goal

Christian Pulisic of the United States celebrates scoring with teammates during the first half against Bolivia at AT&T Stadium on June 23, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (John Todd/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Their next test comes later this week against on Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

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Reggie Jackson on playing in segregated Birmingham in 1967: 'I wouldn’t wish it on anybody'

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Reggie Jackson on playing in segregated Birmingham in 1967: 'I wouldn’t wish it on anybody'

Reggie Jackson is a member of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame.

Before he became a five-time World Series champion and a Hall of Fame player, Jackson led the double-A Southern League with 84 runs, 17 triples, 26 doubles and 17 stolen bases in 1967, his only season with the minor league squad.

But Jackson’s memories of his time in Birmingham, Ala., are anything but pleasant.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Jackson said numerous times Thursday while speaking on Fox’s pregame show for the first Major League Baseball game to be played at Rickwood Field, the historic former home of the Barons as well as the Negro Leagues’ Black Barons.

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants 6-5 in Thursday’s game, billed as “A Tribute to the Negro Leagues” in honor of all the great Negro Leagues players who played at Rickwood from 1920 to 1960. Willie Mays, the legendary Giants outfielder who died Tuesday at age 93, famously played for the Black Barons in 1948.

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Asked by Fox analyst Alex Rodriguez about the emotions he was feeling in his return to Rickwood, Jackson spoke uninterrupted for nearly three minutes on what it was like to be a Black man in the Deep South in 1967.

“Coming back here is not easy,” said Jackson, who went on to have a 21-year big league career with the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Angels. “The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled — fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me through it. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

“I would never want to do it again. I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say, ‘The n— can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they’d say, ‘The n— can’t stay here.’ We went to [Kansas City Athletics owner] Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner and they pointed me out with the N-word, ‘He can’t come in here.’ Finley marched the whole team out. … Finally, they let me in there and he said, ‘We’re going to go to the diner and eat hamburgers. We’ll go where we’re wanted.’

“Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that if I couldn’t eat in a place, nobody would eat. We’d get food to travel. If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they’d drive to a hotel to find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi — I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they’d burn our apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Jackson spoke of a dark time in the city’s history, including the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists that killed four Black girls, ages 11 to 14.

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“At the same time,” Jackson said, “had it not been for my white friends, had it not been for a white man in [Finley] and Rudi and Fingers and Duncan and Lee Meyers, I would have never made it. I was too physically violent. I was ready to physically fight [someone]. I’d have gotten killed here because I’d have beat someone’s ass and you’d have saw me in an oak tree somewhere.”

At that point, Rodriguez put his arm around Jackson, while fellow Fox commentator Kevin Burkhardt initially struggled for words in response to what he had just heard.

“Reggie, I — I can’t even imagine,” Burkhardt said. “It’s awful you had to go through that. But, hey, you know, appreciate you sharing the rawness and the honesty of it with our audience.”

“We love you, Reg,” Rodriguez said.

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Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz rips trans participation in women's sports

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Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz rips trans participation in women's sports

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Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz made his stance on transgender athletes’ participation in women’s sports very clear on Sunday.

Holtz fired off a post on X on the anniversary of Title IX.

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Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame football coach, addresses the America First Policy Institute’s America First Agenda Summit on July 26, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“I was happy when Title IX came out,” the former Notre Dame coach wrote. “But here we are, many years later, and now we can’t even ensure women competing against women. 

“It’s crazy!”

Title IX was originally published on June 23, 1972. The law prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and other education programs that receive funding from the federal government.

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“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” Title IX stated.

Lou Holtz in 1990

Lou Holtz of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during an NCAA football game. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

TRANSGENDER ATHLETE COMPLAINS ABOUT LACK OF SPORTSMANSHIP FROM FELLOW RUNNERS AFTER WINNING GIRLS STATE TITLE

Recently, the Biden administration unveiled new Title IX rules zeroing in on safeguarding LGBTQ+ students and changing the ways in which sexual harassment and assault claims are adjudicated on campus.

The new rules stopped short on barring transgender athletes from competing against females in women’s sports.

Last week, a U.S. district court in Kentucky ordered the implementation of the Biden administration’s new Title IX protections halted after a West Virginia girl and a Christian Educators Association International sued over a transgender teen competing on a middle school team. The new injunction applies to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

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President Joe Biden

President Biden delivers remarks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A federal judge blocked Biden’s Title IX rule in Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Idaho a week prior.

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