Sangary saved by soccer


Ousmane Sangary’s youth has put much into perspective for his later years. From his family moving to a brand new country twice before he turned 12, the men’s soccer player at Buffalo State found success and the opportunity for prosperity, which seemed unfeasible prior to coming to America.

Sangary’s family is from Liberia, but he wasn’t born there because of the war.

“It was really difficult in Guinea because there were so many refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Sangary said. “There was not enough food and people were starving.”

The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999, just two years after the first one ended. The war lasted four years and observers from Human Rights Watch say that there was extensive use of children soldiers.

Sangary’s parents immigrated to Guinea, where he was born. His family later came to the United States, moving to the Bronx while Ousmane was 11. He started school the following year, entering eighth grade. However, the transition to what he knew to what he has to learn was a tall task.

Foremost was the language barrier and then there were the bullies.

“My first year in the United States was very scary,” Sangary said.” All of the classes were in English and the students used to get together and jump me at the bus stop every day. The International Rescue Committee helped my family come to the U.S. and I started going to some programs. One was tutoring and the other was soccer.”

Sports often can provide an escape for people. They can save people.

Sangary was saved by soccer.

“Playing soccer became the most important thing that would change my life,” Sangary said. “I didn’t like soccer before. My friends here all played soccer though. They were playing in the park one day and so I went to play with them. And then from there I fell in love with the game.”

Sangary made most of his friends through soccer and would play every day for at least two hours. He learned that it is easier to go pro here than in Africa, so he took it seriously. So seriously that one day a man came to one of his pick-up games and offered him a big opportunity.

“He told me he was starting a club for kids in the Bronx. My tutor took me to tryouts and I made the U16 team even though I was only 14,” Sangary said.

Life in the classroom were still unpleasurable. He would still have problems with fellow classmates and even some teachers.

“I still had fear and anger from the way I used to be treated,” Sangary explained.

He continued to get into trouble for fighting and talking back to teachers. He says he didn’t know how to listen to them when he didn’t agree with what was going on. He didn’t know how to deal with kids who wanted to fight him either.

Something had to change before a bad situation turned worse. It took a coach to notice what was going on. So, what does a coach do to help a quiet kid from Liberia who gets in fights?

Makes him captain, even though he’s the youngest member.

“I wasn’t comfortable leading the team and talking to them. But I learned that they looked to me for leadership on and off the field,” Sangary said.

When other kids started to realize how good Sangary was, they started to respect him more. And the chaos in the classroom with kids and teachers started to go away. But there was still one bump in the road.

Academics were taking a backseat to the pitch.

Sangary still wasn’t putting effort into the classroom. Sangary wanted to go pro so he never thought about school. His tutor, Cathy Casey for the IRC, told him that if he wanted to have a good future, soccer or not, he needed to put more effort into the classroom.

“She said that I needed to have the same kind of attitude about school that I did soccer,” Sangary said. “Until this conversation, my dream was to go pro. I never thought about going to college.”

Then Sangary’s outlook at schooling changed quickly.

“She started helping me out with school and English. She fell in love with me and became my legal guardian. I moved in with her and she helped me out a lot. Because of her, I finished high school and now in college almost done. All because of her,” Sangary explained. “I’ll never forget about her and she will always be a part of my life.”

He moved with Casey to Brooklyn and started playing high school soccer. He quickly started to get recognized by scouts and was named as New York Post’s Best in Brooklyn. He ended up going to a Division I school, before eventually coming to Buffalo State.

“Ousmane is a very unique individual with a great background story. It is truly amazing where he is today, with all the obstacles that have been in his way. We’re very proud to have Ousmane a part of our soccer program,” Buffalo State head men’s soccer coach Mark Howlett said.

Sangary is a senior about to graduate. Something he said he never even dreamed of when he was 11.