Donnet Sackie overcomes tall odds to play soccer

From African civil wars to collegiate soccer, freshman striker has seen it all

Brad Curnow | Sports Writer | @JoJoCornrow

There are a lot of sacrifices that need to be made to go to college, but most are not as big as what Utah Valley University freshman and men’s soccer player Donnett Sackie has made. Sackie was born in Sierra Leon, Africa in the midst of a civil war. He spent most of his early life moving around West African countries looking for refuge, but couldn’t find safety until settling into a refugee camp in Ghana, where he lived with his family for six years.

UVU forward Donnett Sackie leaps over a slide tackle attempt by UMKC defender Roberto Albuquerque
UVU forward Donnett Sackie leaps over a slide tackle attempt by UMKC defender Roberto Albuquerque

“While we were in the refugee camp I used to play soccer,” Sackie said. “I used to get my friends, we would go around and get plastic and make a soccer ball.”

Soccer became a way for Sackie and his friends to escape from what was going on around them. It was a release from the meager situation they found themselves in.

“Most of the time we never had shoes,” Sackie, said about life in the refugee camp. “We would play barefoot. Soccer was one of the things that made us feel safe, we could go to for our sanctuary.”

During his time in the refugee camp, Sackie helped support his family by selling his handmade bracelets and carrying luggage for other refugees the five to six mile trek into the camp. At 12-years old, he met an international volunteer named Megan Sullivan, who he had sold bracelets to. Sullivan helped him pay the fees that were needed for him to go to school in the camp.

When the civil war in Sierra Leon ended in 2008, Sackie and his family were given $200 from the United Nations to start a new life in Liberia. Upon arrival, Sackie decided he needed to go back to school.

“I’m not the smartest student ever, but I believe once you have an education nothing can hold you back,” Sackie said.

Sullivan helped Sackie connect with Kristi Manning, co-founder of the Strongheart Fellowship, a non-governmental organization with aims at providing educational programs for people from challenging circumstances, such as refugees like Sackie. Upon acceptance into the Strongheart Fellowship in 2010, Sackie moved to Robertsport, Liberia to continue his education. Sackie described how he was able to get three meals everyday, take daily showers, and even got a laptop.

“This was when everything started changing because it was like I was living a real life,” Sackie said.

Just three years later, the Strongheart Fellowship closed, but they still helped Sackie get a scholarship to Wasatch Academy, an international boarding school in Mount Pleasant, Utah. DonnetSackie.BrookeMorrill_1872

“I never thought it was happening,” Sackie said about receiving the scholarship, “I thought I was dreaming.”

Just months before his graduation, Sackie received a call from UVU head coach Greg Maas. Maas wanted Sackie to come play soccer for the Wolverines and offered him a scholarship. Sackie knew UVU was the right fit for him as soon as he spoke to Coach Maas.

“When I met Greg Maas and talked to him, everything just clicked,” Sackie explained. “I knew he would be a good mentor to me not just on the field but off the pitch.”

Sackie has overcome a lot to play soccer at UVU; it’s an accomplishment that even he thought was out of reach.

“I never thought I would come to college,” Sackie said. “I never thought I would be playing soccer in college.”

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