MASHPEE — The goal was a big one and it had nothing to do with kicking a ball into a net. Nobody kept score as 27 high school students on rotating teams played a continuous 10-hour soccer game on a recent weekend overnight. Everyone was a winner.
The scene was surreal, two rickety cardboard villages — one for the boys, the other for the girls — were assembled in the gym as part of the Sleepout Soccerthon last month at Mashpee High School. Funds were raised to help the homeless, but, more importantly, the goal was to change attitudes about homelessness.
“The idea is to get high school kids involved in the community,” said Lee Docherty, founder of UK Soccer Development, a Cape Cod organization that tries to change the world through soccer.
It’s one thing to talk about it, quite another to experience it.
“Why not keep a soccer game going for 10 hours . . . get them boxes, and they have to build their own shelters,” Docherty said.
The homeless numbers are staggering, he said: There are 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States.
“There’s kids in your school that you’ll pass in the halls every day who are going through this,” Docherty told the volunteers. “They have no fixed residences, they haven’t got their own bed, there’s a lot of couch surfing. You would never know it unless you knew their background.”
But raising funds is difficult, he said.
“In the last three years we’ve raised over $15,000 for food pantries, $5,000 for soccer funds that go directly back to kids for free-of-charge soccer clinics,” he said.
Meghan Fligg is an English teacher at Barnstable High School and a Sleepout Soccerthon organizer.
“Part of this is to teach them when there are deficits in the world like homelessness, that they can themselves be part of a change,” she said.
She said some students initially looked down at the homeless.
“I would definitely say there is a stigma around homelessness,” said Fligg.
“They are very unsure what they feel.
“They listen to their friends who say it’s their own fault, but they also feel that some people get put in situations where they can’t help it.”
Fligg said her students were unaware of how many kids were homeless locally.
“Over 100 students in Barnstable School District are considered homeless,’’ she said. “ It’s so, so prevalent.”
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are 9,493 high school-aged students in Massachusetts’s public schools experiencing homelessness on any given day. Roughly half are not in the custody of their parent or legal guardian.
Caroline Young, a sophomore at Barnstable High, said she learned a lot from the event.
“I had no idea what homeless kids actually have to deal with,” she said.
Sleeping in a box proved difficult. Most kids couldn’t.
“I tried a little while ago, but I couldn’t get myself to fall asleep,” said Young. “The floor is hard.”
Michael Ashley, 17, a senior at Mashpee High, is studying homelessness as his senior project.
Last year the students built the cardboard shelters outside and they broke apart in the rain. This year the boys’ home partially collapsed before 3 a.m. The Ritz, it ain’t.
“It’s really crowded and hot and not comfortable,” said Ashley.
Ashley’s goal is to change the public perception about homelessness.
“I think it’s unfair,’’ he said. “They think they’re dirty people which is not true.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.