By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
AUBURN, Ala. – There is something special about Auburn soccer player Tori Ball.
It is a unique and impactful trait that serves the 5-foot-11 junior well on the field but, more importantly, in all avenues of life. It is a quality that Auburn’s 15th-year head coach Karen Hoppa saw early on in a recruiting process in which Ball, in large part, flew under the radar of most other top-notch collegiate soccer programs.
“There were a lot of people who were not even sure she could be an SEC-level athlete,” Hoppa said. “She was from Mobile and played with a club team in Birmingham. We saw something in her. A lot of credit goes to her because of how hard she works.”
That hard work leads to results on the soccer field for Ball, who always finds a way to come through when it matters most. More than half (7) of Ball’s 13 career goals have been game-winners and her impact, which led her team to a Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship in 2011 and a subsequent finals appearance in 2012, is often felt at the most crucial times.
“We joke and call her ‘clutch,’” Hoppa said. “Almost all of her goals have been in key moments of games.”
It should come as no surprise that Ball consistently finds a way to make a difference in the world at times of greatest significance also.
The Mobile, Ala., native recently spent three weeks in South Africa with the Dreams To Reality Foundation, which works to create volunteer opportunities in impoverished South African areas. Ball worked with children in a sports development program during her time in the country.
“We worked at a school, did an after-school sports program and ran PE classes throughout the schools,” Ball said. “The kids loved every single one of the volunteers there and they were so grateful that we would spend our breaks there to go and play with them. It was great to build that relationship with those kids.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Ball, witnessing poverty at levels she couldn’t have previously imagined. She felt grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Dreams To Reality program.
“The kids would come from townships, which are kind of like slums,” Ball said. “The first day we were there for orientation, we went through the townships. The houses were built out of scraps of tin and random cement blocks. It was just nothing I’ve ever seen before.
“The kids are expected to wear uniforms to school, but the chances of them wearing those specific uniforms are pretty slim. They ran around with no shoes on. That’s how it was every day.”
According to Hoppa, Ball’s willingness to participate in the trip to South Africa simply personifies Ball’s character, and was something she saw as much greater than simply a service project.
“Going to Africa was just part of who she is,” Hoppa said. “I don’t think she thought twice about it. Some kids might do things like that just to build their resumes, but her resume has nothing to do with it. She’s just that kind of person. More than anything, I think that trip has motivated her to do more of that type of service again.”
That Ball came across the opportunity to travel to South Africa was by chance. She was looking online for an activity to fill her spring break when she came across the opportunity. It appeared to be the perfect fit.
“I just felt the need to do something,” Ball said. “You can say as much as you want about how you want to help or volunteer, but it doesn’t mean anything until you actually do it. I took a class in high school called Service Leadership, where we did volunteer projects, and that really opened up my eyes to volunteering.”
To the extent that Ball was able to help those in need in South Africa, the trip also provided her assistance on one big question she hadn’t previously been able to answer.
“People would always joke about how I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” Ball said. “My goal with the trip was that I wanted to find out what I wanted to do with my life and change the lives of other people while I was at it. I want to work for a non-profit that basically combines either soccer or sports, and the sustainability aspect for developing a community and making it better.”
Ball’s trip, combined with the experiences of a former teammate, helped her realize what she wants to pursue as her life’s work.
“I had a teammate, Amy Howard, who went on a trip to Uganda in a program called Soccer Without Borders, where they promoted soccer in Uganda,” Ball said. “That, combined with my trip to South Africa, made me realize what I wanted to do with my life. It was very reassuring.”
Ball is one of a long line of players at Auburn who have embraced the role of humanitarian and have been heavily involved in service efforts both in their own communities and internationally. Most recently, Howard and Amy Frierson are two student-athletes who have led the Tigers on and off the field.
Hoppa said it speaks to the character of the players recruited to Auburn.
“I absolutely cannot take any credit for that,” Hoppa said. “We certainly encourage community service, but it is really the character of player that we try to recruit. Recruiting character is really important because those are the people who are going to be representing our program and representing Auburn.”
Hoppa knows that the platform that Ball and her teammates have as student-athletes at Auburn can make an important impact in the lives of others.
“Athletes can make such a difference, especially with kids,” Hoppa said. “Our athletes interact with children and it is really important for them to be positive role models.”
In fact, one of the results of Ball’s trip of which she has been the most pleased is the way in which her visit has sparked the interest of others who want to give back.
“I’ve actually gotten a lot of recognition from this trip and that wasn’t my goal at all,” Ball said. “A lot of my friends who aren’t athletes found out that I went on this trip and they are contacting me, asking questions. I’m minoring in sustainability and, through that, I’ve become a lot more involved in joining clubs on campus and getting the world out that it’s a real problem, even in the U.S.”
Ball, who redshirted her first year on The Plains, has much collegiate soccer left to play with many aspirations of helping take the Auburn program to new heights. But make no mistake, when it is time for Ball to hang up her cleats, her impact through service will continue to be felt around the world for decades to come.
“Tori is one of those kind of kids who is just a great personality, super committed and will do anything for anyone on the team,” Hoppa said. “She is the complete team player. She leads by example and really has a positive influence on our team. None of that goes to her head; she values giving back. Her selflessness really shines.”