Drake University senior Blair Nelson says soccer is a universal language.
"There is something so much greater than this," said Nelson, a public relations major and member of the women's soccer team who helped organize the three-on-three barefoot Lose the Shoes soccer tournament at Drake.
Lose the Shoes is a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Grassroot Soccer, which was created by former professional soccer players in 2002.
Money raised around the United States through events like the one at Drake help put sub-Saharan African youth in education programs that teach them about HIV/AIDS and prevention, as well as life skills.
According to Grassroot Soccer's Web site, more than 50 high schools and colleges have raised nearly $100,000 in Lose the Shoes tournaments.
Drake students and community members contributed at least $1,000 through Sunday's event.
Some of those donations came from professors and coaches, even though they did not participate in the tournament. Nelson said they gave about $350.
"It's obviously for a really good cause," said Kevin Shrout, a senior in marketing and management from Lee's Summit, Mo., who is on the men's soccer team. He added that the team hopes Lose the Shoes will become an annual event at Drake.
"A lot of people really took to that. I think that's why a lot of people are here," he said..
Nelson said it costs $25 per student in Africa to enroll in the education programs, which are taught by role models in their communities, including soccer stars, coaches, teachers and peers.
"If these programs keep going and bringing in money, they can raise a lot of awareness," said Nelson, of Dallas.
Nelson said 15 co-ed teams, each with three to five players, registered for the tournament and paid $10 per person.
Most of the members of the Drake men's and women's soccer teams volunteered, refereeing, keeping score and managing the bracket.
The teams played round-robin style on four small fields at Drake Stadium until two teams reached the final game. The winning team earned a $150 gift card that was donated by Scheels.
In between the 10-minute games, prizes, including gift cards to Jethro's BBQ, Iowa Bakery Cafe and the Soccer Connection, were given away in a raffle.
An executive committee led by Nelson began organizing the event in January and focused on getting a variety of Drake students involved.
There were teams from residence halls, fraternities, the Student Senate and sports teams, among others.
"I just wanted to dedicate myself to a cause and kick the ball around," said Cortney Marschuetz, an education major from St. Louis who formed a team with a couple of friends.
Participants enjoyed warm, breezy weather and healthy competition while working for a cause.
"You can be bad at soccer and still have fun," Nelson said.