Soccer lessons halfway around the world

Throughout the scattered islands that make up the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean, one sport remains supreme: rugby.

COURTESY PHOTO | Children in the Kingdom of Tonga were treated to soccer clinics organized and run by a pair of Shoreham-Wading River brothers and their father.

In September Tonga will be one of 20 countries represented in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In the 2007 World Cup, Tonga even defeated the United States in one match.

If rugby is No. 1, the world’s most popular sport, soccer, is No. 2. And over a two-week period in June, a group of about 60 students in the Village of Faleloa were treated to soccer clinics organized by two Shoreham-Wading River brothers and their father.

Keith and Connor Moore both grew up in Shoreham with soccer as a big part of their life. Their father Marty, an Irish descendant, introduced soccer to them at early ages and they quickly flourished in the sport. Keith, a 2000 Shoreham graduate, played soccer at the University of Maine while Connor, a 2006 graduate, played at Bryant University.

After Connor, 22, graduated college he enlisted in the Peace Corps. His first mission brought him to the remote village in Tonga where he teaches.

Connor arrived in Tonga in September to begin a one-year tour. Keith, 29, who became the men’s soccer head coach at Keystone College in May, decided to follow his brother for a trip to experience Tonga and help in whatever way he could. When Keith spoke to members of the athletic department at Keystone about the trip, the school volunteered to help by donating equipment to the village.

When Keith arrived in Tonga after a nearly 20-hour trip that included stops in Los Angeles and Fiji, he began with an introductory clinic.

“We had a good amount of kids there and they really enjoyed it,” he said. “These kids don’t have much. They don’t even have real shoes to play in.”

The kids played with a reckless abandonment as if it was rugby. After going through some drills to work on particular skills, the kids spent most of the time simply going back and forth on the field.

“They were just laying each other out,” Keith said. “The girls were more aggressive than the guys and they weren’t even wearing shoes. They were just flying in. I think growing up playing rugby so much they have that mentality where they just go right at each other.”

After Connor finishes his year of work, he’ll be relocated to another village in Tonga for a year. After that, he plans to stay in the Peace Corps for another two-year tour where he’d like to go somewhere in South America, Keith said.

“That’s what he loves doing is volunteering and helping people out,” Keith said.

If Connor ends up in South America Keith said he’d love to organize another trip.

One of the thrills for the brothers about the trip was having their father involved. Marty helped with training sessions and was instrumental in coordinating everything for the trip.

That the three would end up together halfway around the world teaching soccer to kids seemed like a dream.

“You talk to people and they think Tonga is in Africa,” Keith said. “Never did I think I’d be on a beach in the South Pacific with no shoes on teaching soccer with my dad and brother in paradise.”

While not a major tourist destination and in many ways a third-world country, Tonga has the beauty of a paradise. The temperate averages in the 70s all year, with a record high of 90 and low of 50. Pristine, untouched beaches adorn the coasts of the islands.

“There’s not a real emphasis on money,” Keith said. “It’s more family and church that is really the most important thing to them.”