LA's Sanneh finds joy in island clinic

Tony Sanneh looked out the window of his St. Paul, Minn., home and said it was snowing. The temperature outside also was minus-9 degrees.

"I don't even want to think about the wind chill," he joked.

The Los Angeles Galaxy defender had no such concerns about bitterly cold weather just over a week ago. He and a group of colleagues from Major League Soccer put on a 3 1/2-day clinic for youths in St. Croix on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Temperatures were in the mid-90's -- "It was hot, hot," Sanneh said -- and, except for one brief rainstorm, conditions generally were ideal for the camp.

Sanneh got the idea after speaking with former Milwaukee Rampage teammate Brian Blasska, who lives on the island, and arrived there Dec. 28 for a joint function involving his Sanneh Foundation and the St. Croix AYSO. It featured just over three days of instruction and interaction with more than 100 island youths ranging in ages from 8-18. Sanneh brought along a number of his friends from MLS, among them Galaxy teammate Jovan Kirovski and assistant coach Cobi Jones, Chivas USA's Jesse Marsch and Zach Thornton and FC Dallas' Jeff Cunningham.

The aim of the camp not only was to help advance the participants' soccer skills but also help with cultural diversity training, which is a big part of the veteran Galaxy defender's foundation, a nonprofit entity established in June of 2003 to support comunity-based organizations that foster positive environments for urban youths.

Sanneh said he and the others didn't really need such an approach when they got to the islands.

"It's already a natural melting pot," he said. "You will not see racism; people interact in every way ... old, young, rich, poor, black and white."

He also was surprised to discover the youths' nonstop energy.

"There's a stereotype of islanders being a little lazy and wanting to chill and hang out," he said. "But these kids were all go, go, go."

Sanneh, players, coaches and camp participants ate lunch together, talked shop and got into each other's personal lives. Sanneh also shared his nickname of "Big Cat" -- not surprising since the 38-year-old stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 195 pounds -- and came away impressed with the youth's enthusiasm. Even heading drills -- another preconceived notion that island soccer players supposedly don't like to use their heads -- were met with appreciation.

"They normally do not have that kind of structure down there," Sanneh said. "How quickly they do get it puts a smile on your face."

A little rain never got in the way, either. Sanneh said one final-day rainstorm, which he equated to more of a monsoon, failed to dampen the festivities.

"One part of the field developed a small lake," Sanneh recalled. "But not one kid wanted to take a break ... it was business as usual. They even asked us if they could slide in the mud to warm up."

Plans are being made to go back and there already is a waiting list for interested coaches. Sanneh said this latest foundation function was particularly rewarding.

"It was totally different," he said. "I was there with 12 of my friends and colleagues and their families, on a different island, away from the soccer field. All of us have a vested interest in coaching at some point and we're all working to do something other than the normal game.

"The interaction with the kids was incredible. We gave out an MVP to an 8-year-old when it was over, and everyone just erupted. Everything was just so positive, and it's always nice to put smiles on kids' faces."