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Duluth East players raising money for soccer balls for needy children

At the multi-use field behind Ordean East Middle School on Monday afternoon, an abundance of sleek, shiny soccer balls whizzed through the air as the Duluth East boys team practiced under a pesky drizzle.

At the multi-use field behind Ordean East Middle School on Monday afternoon, an abundance of sleek, shiny soccer balls whizzed through the air as the Duluth East boys team practiced under a pesky drizzle.

There is nothing unique or remarkable, of course, about soccer balls at a soccer practice. What is unique, however, is the team's understanding that there are oodles of youngsters across the planet that can't afford the sport's most basic component. That reality served as the impetus for the Greyhounds to align with a nonprofit called Charity Ball , which, according to its website, donates "quality soccer balls to kids in poverty-stricken communities around the world."

The Greyhounds' three senior captains -- Quinn Whiting, Nick Johnson and Trygve Rennan -- are spearheading a season-long campaign to raise money for Charity Ball. Every $25 raised means a new ball for a child who otherwise would go without.

"Our whole lives we've had whatever we've needed to play a sport," Rennan said. "Growing up, our parents have always provided for us, and we've always had balls, cleats or whatever we've needed to play. These kids don't have that."

East coach Nic Bacigalupo admitted that most teenagers don't spend a lot of time dwelling on far-flung financial hardships.

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"A typical high school kid is thinking about what's next hour, what's tonight after school, when's the soccer game or when's the hockey game or whatever," Bacigalupo said. "To take the time to think about that, and then follow up on that and do something about it, is extra effort.

"I think it means that they recognize that there's more going on in the world than just what's in front of them in high school. They see that, and they get that."

The soccer-ball drive comes a year after the East boys and girls teams partnered with players from Duluth Denfeld to assist a

Minnesota-based organization in raising awareness of child trafficking.

Looking for a soccer-themed project this time around, Whiting's mother stumbled upon Charity Ball while searching online. The players were intrigued. Consequently, a tattered old ball -- serving as a makeshift collection plate -- can be found at the ticket booth and concession area during East home games. Fans are encouraged to leave their donations in those soccer balls.

"We just hope to raise enough to get a lot of balls over there," Whiting said. "Charity Ball's goal is $50,000 this year, so we're just going to try to help them get that."

That figure, $50,000, would put 2,000 new soccer balls into the hands of needy children.

Among the criteria Charity Ball lists on its website for determining recipients: children living in impoverished conditions who do not have and can't afford their own ball, and who never have received a Charity Ball before.

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The Greyhounds will raise money throughout the fall via donations during games and a number of other contests and activities. At the season's conclusion, they will donate it to Charity Ball. As a result, young soccer players in far-off places will get the chance to hone their craft in the world's most popular sport.

"It's just nice because, like Trygve said, we've had everything that we need, and these people in different countries don't exactly have everything that they need to play the sport," Johnson said. "It's a great sport, so it's just nice to get everyone involved."

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