Bensalem soccer player Jonathan Larbi receives Union League of Philadelphia Award
By Samantha Bambino
When reflecting on his childhood growing up in Bensalem, one vivid memory instantly comes to the mind of Jonathan Larbi — kicking around a soccer ball.
Though always academically talented and part of the school district’s gifted program since the second grade, the Bensalem High School junior never restricted his time to only his studies.
Larbi, a proud member of the Yardley Makefield Soccer Club, always felt alive on the field. It boosted his confidence, taught him how to properly manage his time, and helped him recognize the importance of teamwork. Still, he never imagined the massive impact this hobby would have on not only himself, but youth seeking to follow in his footsteps.
Last month, it was announced that Larbi was one of 18 recipients of the Union League of Philadelphia Good Citizenship Award, an annual honor granted to high school juniors involved with Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, which the YMS Club is a part of.
The awardees were recognized on Feb. 22 at an awards banquet held at the Sheraton Valley Forge, and will be again on May 1 at Good Citizen Day at the Union League in Philadelphia.
“These awardees have shown both a passion for soccer and for bettering others around them,” said Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer CEO Chris Branscome. “They’ve distinguished themselves as leaders among a talented group of applicants, and represent the qualities Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer hopes all youth players aspire to.”
The recipients were selected by a Good Citizenship Committee after a thorough review of nearly 100 applications, with the winners hailing from 17 different clubs.
“It was an amazing blessing to get the award,” Larbi said, adding how the banquet was a thrill to attend. “It was really cool because it wasn’t only for that award. There were a lot of other awards for best coaches, and best teams of the year. So I got to meet a lot of people who I recognized playing before, and a lot who I had never known before.”
The Good Citizenship Award is exclusively for athletes who exemplify qualities of “cooperative effort, self-control, perseverance, serious scholarship and good sportsmanship, while upholding the best traditions of American patriotism,” according to Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer’s website. Ultimately, it’s for teens who are helping others through the game of soccer.
In the case of Larbi, this is done through his involvement since freshman year with Ambassadors Soccer Club, which is part of the global program, Ambassadors Football.
“It’s for less-fortunate kids in our area,” Larbi said. “We teach them faith through soccer, provide a weekly training for them so they become better, and we feed them as well.”
Ambassadors Soccer meets every Friday at Bensalem United Methodist Church. Over the summer, participants from Ambassadors Football programs in Liberia, Netherlands, London and Western and Eastern Europe came to the area to coach the elementary and middle schoolers, and Larbi had the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach alongside them.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing soccer, but this has probably been the best chance to give back to other kids,” he said.
During practices, Larbi often shares with mentees stories from his own experiences, and the positive benefits he’s reaped because of soccer.
“It motivates them to work even harder,” he said. “It’s just been really interesting how much soccer has done to my life. When I was a little kid kicking a ball around, I thought it was just for fun. But now, looking back, through soccer I’ve been able to travel internationally and throughout the USA to play other people globally.”
As part of the prestigious East Regional Olympic Development Program, which is run by United States Youth Soccer, Larbi has taken on some of the best teams in the world. Highlights from the past several years include a trip to Spain in 2017, where he played in the Mediterranean International Cup, and a tournament in Scotland in 2018.
Looking ahead, Larbi is setting lofty goals for himself. Not only does he want to continue to play soccer at the college level, he plans to do so while simultaneously studying to become an engineer.
“Finding a way to do both would be a great opportunity,” he said.
But after taking into consideration his 4.0 GPA and ranking of fifth in his class, that shouldn’t be too hard. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org