A Coach to All
The boys of the Bowling Green Projects United soccer team huddle in a corner of the field before their game. Their coach, Daniel Tarnagda, opens a box of brand new uniforms and passes them out. The boys hold them up, excited about the small red, yellow, and blue Democratic Republic of Congo flag embroidered onto the chest of the jerseys. One of the players laughs, realizing that the uniforms, with their red and white striped shirts and blue shorts, look just like the American flag, even though the Congo flag is embroidered onto them. Tarnagda’s face lights up in realization. He smiles, nods his head and says “that’s perfect.”
It’s the boy’s first game of the season, and only the third season of the team’s existence. The BGPU soccer team was started by Tarnagda for African refugees in Bowling Green, Ky. Its intention is to help the community of refugees adjust to the area.
Tarnagda is a refugee himself, originally from Burkina Faso in West Africa. He moved to the U.S five years ago.
“I know that adjusting here can be hard,” said Tarnagda. “I want to make it as easy as I can for these guys to make friends so that they can like it here.”
When Tarnagda arrived, he moved into a home in the Housing Authority of Bowling Green, just a short walk from Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School. The staff at the school, which is known for having a large population of refugee students, immediately accepted him and he and began working in the cafeteria.
There, he met Jonathan Stovall, a fourth grade math and science teacher who convinced Tarnagda to help out in his classroom and with his after-school boys program. Tarnagda began mentoring some of the students from Africa and also taught music lessons to some students using African drums.
“It is very humbling to have Mr. Stovall to want me to come and help with these boys,” said Tarnagda. “It is a good thing for us to be able to do and with the drums I can teach them about their culture.”
After working closely with the students and in the after-school mentoring program, Daniel got the idea to start the soccer team strictly for African refugees.
Since its beginning three years ago, the team has expanded to incorporate players that range from elementary to high school. Though the players vary in home country, each was born in Africa. Some have been in Bowling Green as many as three years, and some as little as three months.
“I’m happy that Daniel started the team because it makes it feel more like home,” said Barraca Djuma, who has been in the U.S for three years.
Djuma is originally from Tanzania, but like a significant amount of boys on the team, considers the Democratic Republic of Congo his home. For this reason, Tarnagda made the decision to embroider the flag on their uniforms and fly it at games.
Tarnagda has become an active role in many of the players’ lives apart from just coaching the team. He also began attending Christ Fellowship Church. Because the church is situated in the middle of the Housing Authority where there is a large refugee population, the church offers English Second Language classes each Sunday. Tarnagda, who is fluent in three languages, began helping with the classes along with his wife, Alice.
Soon, the church basement where the ESL classes were held began to fill with members of the soccer team and their families. When he realized that even more would attend if they had transportation on Sundays, he began borrowing the church van to pick up and drop off attendees. Because of his active role with the church and the Housing authority, both organizations agreed to sponsor the soccer team.
When Tarnagda is not coaching, teaching, or mentoring, he is taking classes at South Central Kentucky Community and Technical College. He is majoring in renewable energy, with hopes to travel back to Africa after receiving his degree.
“I want to take what I have learned there and go to Africa,” said Tarnagda. “I know the things that Africa needs there and I want to take that knowledge back and help.”
On and off the field, Tarnagda is a continuing inspiration to some of his players who struggle with adjustment. He hopes to do anything in his power to help.
“I was in their place a short time ago,” said Tarnagda. “So I know how they feel and I want to do anything that I can to help them to be happy in Bowling Green.”