Zoe Jackson-Gibson ’16 (left) with Soccer Without Borders players and a
fellow instructor in Nicaragua.

Best in Field

by Paige Cooke

Zoe Jackson-Gibson ’16 traveled 2,133 miles to play soccer. Well, it was more complicated than that. The recent grad and former Heron defensive player journeyed to Nicaragua with Soccer Without Borders (SWB), a nonprofit that empowers underserved youth through mentorship, safe spaces and the love of the game.

“Coming from William Smith and being a student-athlete where education and the overall empowerment of women, with a great emphasis on leadership and life skills, is key, I found the SWB program to fall right in line with the values that came along with being a part of the William Smith family,” says Jackson-Gibson.

In Nicaragua, 28 percent of young women are pregnant by age 18, 52 percent do not complete primary school and many are expected to raise their younger siblings. The SWB program provides young women with a network of coaches and mentors like Jackson-Gibson to encourage continued education and healthy lifestyle choices while providing emotional support.

“I think my favorite part about working for SWB is being a part of a community that genuinely cares and is continuously searching for ways to improve the lives of these kids,” says Jackson-Gibson, who serves as a team leader. “I love seeing the strong, positive relationships SWB Nicaragua has within the Granada community.”

Soccer is on Jackson-Gibson’s mind most of the time, but in addition to coaching, she recruits additional players, monitors SWB social media pages and serves as an English tutor for the young women in the program. SWB also reunited Jackson-Gibson with former Heron teammate Madeline Buckley ’15, who joined the organization for their week-long camp.

For Buckley, the experience was “life changing…. Probably the coolest part of the trip was being able to play side-by-side with Zoe against the Nicaraguan National Team in an official FIFA friendly [game]. We tied 1-1,”says Buckley, who recently earned her master’s degree in child life and family-centered care at Wheelock College and coaches soccer, ice hockey and softball in the greater Boston area. “The greatest part of the game was afterward when all 70 girls ran up to the fence and greeted us players with huge smiles and cheers. When we walked out of the locker room after the game, the girls made a tunnel for us to run through and memories flooded through my mind of getting off the bus in Geneva coming home from the national title game being greeted by the tunnel of fans.”

An environmental studies major while at William Smith, Jackson-Gibson played in 66 career games on the Heron soccer team. She posted two goals and four assists for William Smith and earned a national title in 2013. The two-time Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year and NSCAA first team All-American guided the Herons to 63 shutouts in her four years on the pitch.

Jackson-Gibson will be working with SWB until June. She’s still deciding where the future will take her after her time in Nicaragua ends, but she does know that she will find a way to stay involved with SWB.

“The things that soccer, and especially William Smith, have given me are things I will be forever grateful for. I decided it was time to give back to the game that has given me so much, and I could not have found a more fulfilling way to do that,” she says.


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