ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Since 2019, Abilene Christian University has held free soccer camps for resettled refugees. A big hit with its attendees, last year a new trend started, helping these kids bring a piece of their home to the Key City.

Walking into the Maker Lab in ACU’s Brown Library, you’ll see plenty of 3D printers, saws, a tool wall and more. It’s a place designed to let the students attending show off their creative side.

However, when you make your way to the back classroom, past the “Make, Learn, Inspire” sign, you might find Assistant Professor of Art and Design Trey Shirley preparing for his classes, grading assignments or creating a piece of his own.

Art is not just his profession, but rather his passion, and now he has a new outlet in which to express that love of teaching.

“I love art and I love sports,” Shirley said. “I love the idea of being able to combine those.” 

Lately, he’s been flipping through stacks of designs. No, they aren’t designs made by students in a late-summer course, but they are students of the game. The game of soccer, that is, as attendees of ACU’s refugee soccer camp have shown off their creative sides.

“One of my favorite aspects of it is getting to hear them share about why this ball is important to them, and why they chose those colors or why they chose that design and how that takes them home,” Shirley said.

Starting last year, he and the Maker Lab staff have partnered with the refugee camps to create a design portion, letting the kids use the Maker Lab’s facilities to draw, color and create their ideal soccer ball. Shirley said it’s a way for them to connect something they grew up around and bring that love and familiarity to a new home here in Abilene. Except – there is a catch.

That’s where Jason Morris comes into the picture. Not only did he create the summer soccer camps, but he also started a new business called “Play 4 More.”

ACU’s Dean of the Honor’s College said he has a passion for resettled refugees, starting the company outside of ACU to help give these kids a voice. That’s why “Play 4 More” is taking some of their drawn designs and producing, manufacturing and selling their custom soccer balls on Amazon.

These soccer balls above are what most kids in sub-Saharan Africa would be used to playing with, Morris said. These two in particular, he brought back from Zambia. They are heavy, densely packed plastic bags wrapped in rope and tape to be held together.

His goal for these kids, get them soccer balls that the professionals use, but also give back at the same time.

“The company has a unique mission and unique purpose, and one of the main purposes is for every ball we sell, we want to give a ball away for free to child overseas.” Morris said.

On top of giving away a free soccer ball per purchase, Morris said they plan to set aside 10% of their gross revenue to put towards a scholarship fund, helping give these resettled refugees an opportunity to go to post-secondary school.

Each design is unique, representing each kid’s personality a little differently. Some want to put their country’s flag colors on their soccer ball, some draw an outline of their country and even some basic lines. However, whichever designs are picked, the name of the designer is stamped onto each soccer ball, making it more than just a regular soccer ball to Shirley.

“There’s this this element of them really connecting with the design in a really personal way that I think we get to participate in as as we purchase those and use them,” Shirley said. “All of a sudden that ball doesn’t just become another black and white soccer ball on the closet.”

Shirley says, to him, each soccer ball represents a piece of their home as a comforting piece, as they find their way in a completely new place.

He said the kids love bringing their designs to the camp, and said they have had returners come in hopes their design will get picked the next year.