Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
IN 2010, Ackim Mpofu was touted as a future star for Highlanders FC and the national team, two years later he was promoted into Bosso’s first team.
Mpofu captained the national Under-15 boys’ team that participated in the Singapore Youth Olympics in 2010. That squad, coached by Dumaza Dube, had the likes of Lucky Ndlela, Pritchard Mphelele, Keith Murera, Mgcini Sibanda and Donovan Bernard.
Two years later, just before the start of the 2012 Premier Soccer League season, Mpofu was one of the youngsters, who included Golden Arrows’ all-time goal scorer Knox Mutizwa and Honest Moyo, who were promoted into Highlanders’ senior team.
However, the then St Columba’s High School pupil didn’t last long at Highlanders. He got a football scholarship to study at Northeastern University in the United States of America.
“Some of the players I played with in the Highlanders’ juniors include Teenage Hadebe, Lucky Ndlela and Knox Mutizwa. I was one of the young guys who graduated to the first team where I played with the likes of Eric Mudzingwa, Bruce Kangwa, Lawson Nkomo, Rahman Kutsanzira and Ariel Sibanda. These guys were like my brothers, took care of me in the senior team and I’m so grateful for them to have had positive roles in my life,” Mpofu said.
Very few might know the young Mpofu who was destined for great heights before relocating to America.
In 2016, Mpofu was honoured in the US for his consistent performance academically and on the sports field by Northeastern University. He was named into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) All-CAA Third Team for a second consecutive year. The CAA, which is located in the East Coast states from Massachusetts to South Carolina, is a collegiate athletic conference affiliated to the National Conference Athletic Association (NCAA).
Mpofu had played 16 out of Northeastern’s 17 matches, leading the Huskies in minutes played (1,246 min) while averaging more than 83.9 minutes per start.
A number of teams in the Major Soccer League monitored Mpofu’s progress, but in 2019, the Bulawayo lad lost interest in football and quit the game. A sport that gave him an opportunity to study at the best institutions in the USA suddenly didn’t excite Mpofu.
Now 28-years-old, Mpofu has found love in his childhood pastime, art. He now tells stories through art.
But what really led the promising footballer to quit soccer?
“I’m not playing football anymore, it’s been about four years since I stopped. Initially, what led to my decision was that I just didn’t have the desire to play anymore. I had some opportunities I could explore with some teams but I was exhausted mentally and my passion for football wasn’t the same. I went through a lot personally while playing and I just didn’t have the supporting cast I used to have at most.
“In addition, I felt I had used football to get to where I needed to be, which was getting an education at top institutions without having to pay for it. It was time to move on to something else I was passionate about, which is working with kids on education and sports,” said Mpofu who is a teacher and coach at Lake Forest Academy, a private school in Lake Forest, a suburb slightly north of Chicago.
Mpofu graduated from Northeastern University in Boston, MA with a Combined Major in International Affairs and Political Science. He also has a certificate for International Law from St John’s in New York.
He recently completed a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction at Concordia University Michigan Ann Arbor.
Having seen the ugly side of racism in America, Mpofu has found solace in art.
“While I’ve gotten the opportunity to better myself and family, I’ve had to deal with my identity as a black person which is tough. The racism and prejudice is still very much prevalent and never more I’ve been more cognisant about my skin colour than I had to at home.
“Art has allowed me to be able to express my thoughts and feelings to spark conversations and answer questions that affect our communities and identity. It comes with the idea of becoming the voice of the voiceless. For the first time I’m finally showing my art which I have hidden for a long time. But I have a story to tell that is unique to most people and can change people’s lives,” Mpofu said.
The ex-footie star is planning to have his first solo exhibition titled “MAMA” in Chicago. He said it will focus on themes associated with teenage pregnancies.
“Essentially a chain of events that can be catapulted by teenage pregnancy and having an unstable home. This exhibition will be unique as the pieces will be accompanied by reading excerpts from my memoir that I’m currently writing,” he said.
The ex-national Under-15 captain, who spoke passionately about art, expressed his gratitude to the Bulawayo Art Gallery who housed him last year when he visited home. Mpofu said Noni Mathe mentored him to bring his art to the next level.
He dreams of building a school in Bulawayo that will focus on arts, culture and sport.
“Sometimes I think about returning to the field, but I love working in education as a teacher and coach at Lake Forest Academy. On bad days I’m like, man I could be playing somewhere in Europe or overseas having the best time but I remember that I’m changing kids’ lives and showing them a perspective they have never been exposed to. Essentially showing them that we as Africans are capable of doing anything as much as any other group.
“This place gives me an opportunity to be involved with coaching (coach the Girls Varsity Soccer Team and the boys Junior Varsity Team). We have kids from all over the world and it reminds a lot of home communities. In addition, this place will give me the tools to be able to potentially be in leadership in education and build my own school/academy back home that focuses on arts, culture and sports,” Mpofu said. — @ZililoR