Christmas came early in Gambia this year.
The proof is in the players who, since late October, have been decked in Transylvania University soccer jerseys.
Mambuna Bojang, a former Transy men's player who now is technology support coordinator at the school, had been trying to find a way to support young players in his native country.
He mentioned his idea to Parviz Zartoshty, Transy's director of athletic promotion and sponsorship. When Zartoshty learned that the Transy women's team had purchased new jerseys, he asked Coach Michael Fulton about donating the old jerseys.
Fulton agreed to give sets of maroon and white jerseys, along with about two dozen used soccer balls. With help from the Lexington Football Club, used cleats also were gathered for Bojang's hometown Gunjur Community Football Academy. Bojang shipped the equipment at his own expense.
Gunjur is in the southwest corner of Gambia, a west African nation that is less than half the size of Vermont, surrounded by Senegal on three sides and by the North Atlantic Ocean on the other.
The academy, which opened in 2005 with 25 children, now has 75 players from ages 12 to 20.
"That's how many they can accommodate," Bojang said. "Because this is all voluntary basis, none of the coaches there gets paid. They do this because they want to do it, they want to help those children."
So does everyone involved from Transy.
"It's a great opportunity for us to have a positive impact not just within the United States but internationally," Fulton said. "Sometimes I feel like we're a little wasteful with things and trying to find opportunities to get more use out of things that we need to replace. Talking with Mambuna, this seemed like a great opportunity, and we took advantage of it."
Zartoshty, a native of Iran, grew up playing barefooted with "balls" made of whatever material was available. He knows what type of impact the Transy community has made in Gambia.
"It's like Christmas over there," Zartoshty said. "Those kids, they see a ball that probably our kids won't touch here, they think it's like a gift from heaven."
Bojang says that players in Gunjur know of Transylvania. Not only did he play for the Pioneers (1992-95), so did his cousin Buba.
"So they have heard about Transylvania for a long time, as long as I've been here," Mambuna said.
"They really appreciate it," he said of the reaction and pictures he has received from home. "Here in the United States, we take so many things for granted. ... But they value those things. Even though it is used equipment from here, they value them very, very highly over there. They appreciate it. You could see the excitement in the kids faces when they got that stuff."
Already, Bojang is trying to put together another batch of equipment to ship home.
"The Gunjur Community Football Academy is very dear to my heart for several reasons," he said. "I consider my myself as one of the few lucky ones to gain the maximum benefit out of soccer. It is quite obvious that I could not afford to come to a highly accredited higher educational institution like Transy without the soccer scholarship I was given in the fall of 1992. ...
"I want to be part of the bunch that gives similar opportunities to the talented children in my native community."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.