Two weeks in Ethiopia this summer helped Wright State’s Brooklyne Mason confirm that she now plays soccer with a purpose.
“I learned to appreciate the opportunities I have been given and be thankful for all I have,” the junior defender from Middletown said. “The people I saw in Ethiopia played with such a passion because soccer is all they have. It hit me hard. I realized that, at times, I might have stepped on the field with no purpose. Now my purpose is to glorify God by playing with all my heart. Realizing that has sparked my game.”
Mason has become a mainstay on defense for the Raiders, who are currently in fourth place in the Horizon League.
“Brooklyne is a tough-as-nails kind of kid,” Wright State coach Pat Ferguson said. “She has been starting central defender and one of most consistent players on the team this year. When I heard about this (trip to Ethiopia) and how she has grown in her faith, I thought it was really neat.”
Mason traveled with 35 men’s and women’s soccer players from Athletes in Action (AIA), a group that promotes faith through sports. All of the players on the women’s team except Mason were from Canada. Mason had to raise $4,000 on her own to be part of the trip.
AIA played six games against Ethiopian club teams, conducted youth soccer clinics, and did service work at an orphanage and a missionary school.
“There were themes for each activity — being a good teammate, being thankful,” Mason said. “Someone would share a story about how something like that related to their faith.”
The Ethiopian women’s club teams played at a “pretty high level,” Mason said, but their dedication to the game was at an even higher level.
“Women don’t have as many opportunities there, so it was a pretty new thing for them to be able to play soccer,” Mason said.
“It was really cool environment. We played on dirt fields. The people we played against … they don’t care if they have one ball and it’s flat and they are playing on a dirt field. They love soccer. It was great.”
The youth camps, at Bahir Dar and the nation’s capital city of Addis Ababa, were well-attended with crowds of eager youngsters ages 4 to 12.
“We worked at a soccer academy for orphans and other places where the kids virtually have nothing,” Mason said. “You saw their faces light up when you hand them a soccer ball.”
Mason said she had put her faith “on the back burner” during high school. She originally committed to Campbell University in North Carolina, but came to Wright State after Campbell changed coaches during the summer prior to her freshman season.
“I told her, ‘I just don’t see you playing much, and I don’t want that to be your experience here,’” said Ferguson, who had coached Mason on a local club team. “Shows you what I know.”
The sports science major played in only six games as a freshman, but saw the direction of her life change after many conversations with teammate Brinna Price.
“Brinna was a Christian,” Mason recalled. “I saw how she interacted with others, how she was so satisfied with her faith. It made me realize, ‘Wow, I want that in my life. I need that fulfillment.’ I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my life. Connecting with my faith means I can strive to be an example of God’s love, a good teammate who is encouraging at all times, and a loving person.”
Mason played in 19 games as a sophomore. The former midfielder became a full-time starter on defense five games into this season due to a rash of injuries to her teammates. Now, Ferguson said, “She’s there to stay.”
“I’m not the most athletic player,” Mason admitted. “I’m not that fast. I can’t really jump that high. But I am pretty good at seeing the field and playing the ball off to other people. I am pretty feisty. If I see a ball I can get, I am going for it 100 percent.”
And, she is 100 percent committed to her life’s new direction.
“When I started finding success on the field is when I took a step back from soccer and put my faith first,” Mason said. “I love soccer. I am incredibly blessed to be here. But my faith is No. 1 in my life.”