Soccer star dribbling ball from Boston to D.C. to raise AIDS awareness

Ian B. Murphy

Ethan Zohn, a 1992 Lexington High School graduate and the winner of CBS’s "Survivor: Africa" in 2001, is dribbling a soccer ball all the way to Washington, D.C.

Zohn leaves Massachusetts on Aug. 20 and hopes to arrive in the nation’s capital on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

He plans to dribble from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to Washington to raise awareness for Grassroots Soccer United (GRSU), a nonprofit company Zohn co-created to educate African children about HIV and AIDS.

Zohn created Grassroots Soccer with Dr. Tommy Clark in 2002, using the fame and prize money he won from Survivor to help the continent where he competed both as a reality TV star and as a professional soccer player in Zimbabwe.

“[Before 'Survivor',] I knew there was an issue and I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know what I could do,” Zohn said. “[When he got back from Africa], Dr. Clark had the idea, and I helped fund it, and we went full force after that.”

Their program uses local role models, many of them professional soccer players, to educate children about HIV and AIDS.

“These guys grew up in the same streets, went to the same schools, and battled the same issues as these kids,” Zohn said. “The kids know who they are; they’re real-life heroes to them.”

The program has already graduated more than 230,000 kids from 14 countries, and Zohn hopes his dribbling will draw enough attention to put thousands more through his program. The program costs about $25 per child.

Athletic-wear company Puma has donated a vast number of soccer balls, t-shirts and other soccer gear to GSRU. T-shirts are priced at $25, so each t-shirt sold is another child through the program.

“Given Puma’s rich history in soccer and our continuous support of African Football this relationship was a perfect fit for our brand,” said Barney Waters, vice president of marketing for Puma North America. “The concept of the dribble is also truly unique. … We could not be happier to support Ethan and Grassroots Soccer on their quest to raise money and awareness for such an important cause.”

“It’s pretty cool to have my own ball created by Puma,” Zohn said. “Puma has been a huge help to us. They have a strong connection to Africa. They are sponsors of a dozen or so national teams.”

During the event, called Grassroots Soccer United Dribble 2008, he plans to dribble 10 to 12 miles every day. He also hopes to stop and put on soccer clinics for kids, sign the Puma merchandise, and hold other fundraisers and rallies at each stop.

Kids who team up with Grassroots — GRSU’s “Players” — become advocates for critical issues, active fundraisers in their communities, and are matched with African “teammates” with whom they’re directly linked through the Grassroots Web site.

The top 11 fundraisers between ages 10 and 18 will win a trip to South Africa in the summer of 2009 to play soccer with their African counterparts. They will participate of Grassroots Soccer new headquarters there, built for them by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.

Zohn departs from a New England Revolution game on Aug. 20. Fans who mention Grassroots Soccer when they purchase a $27 ticket for the game will all sit in a special section, and $7 from each ticket goes to the nonprofit.

Before the game there will be a barbecue and kickoff tailgate party, starting at 5:30 p.m.

For tickets, call Laura Jean Izzo at 508-384-9235. For more information about GSRU, visit