Sept. 25, 2013
This is Service. This is Life. This is Auburn.
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Growing up in Mobile, Tori Ball had seen poverty, but she'd seen nothing to prepare her for what she saw when she traveled to South Africa to work with underprivileged children.
"It's so eye-opening," Ball says. "At orientation we drove through the townships. You can see pictures on the Internet, but it's nothing compared to actually going through the townships and seeing the houses built out of metal sheets, wooden sheets. It's crazy."
Ball, a junior forward/midfielder on the Auburn soccer team, spent three weeks in South Africa with a group sponsored by Dreams to Reality Foundation, which works to create volunteer opportunities in the poor areas of South African.
The group of volunteers, mostly from the United States, Australia, England and Canada, ran physical education classes in a school, took the children to recess and worked in after-school programs.
"They came from townships that are basically slums," Ball says. "I made friends with kids and the volunteers. It was a wonderful experience."
It wasn't all work. Ball and her fellow volunteers had time for fun, too. She went on a safari and saw sharks from inside a cage under water. Some even went bungee jumping, but Ball declined.
"I talked to other people before we left and they said `Oh my gosh, you are going to have elephants in your back yard,'" Ball says. "Actually, It was civilized, but you really had to be smart and know your surroundings before you went out. It was a great time."
Reaching out to those in need comes naturally for Ball. Even in high school, she looked for ways to help.
"I've always wanted to help people," Ball says. "My senior year in high school I took a class called Service Leadership. We did volunteer projects. We went to schools and tutored kids twice a week. I think that really carried over to college."
Auburn coach Karen Hoppa says it comes as no surprise that Ball would spend her free time helping children in a country on the other side of the world.
"Tori is just really everything you would want in an Auburn student-athlete," Hoppa says. "She's the whole package. Her commitment level in everything she does is at that next level. I think the South Africa trip reflects that. She wants to make a difference in the world. She loved helping the kids over there. That really tells you who she is.
"She is the same way on the soccer field. She is the type of kid that will do anything for the program. She will sacrifice herself as long as it is what is best for the program."
Ball always knew she wanted to play soccer at Auburn, where her brother graduated.
"I absolutely love it," she says. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
There was a time when it looked like she might not get a scholarship offer. She had played for a club team in Birmingham since giving up basketball to concentrate on soccer in the eighth grade. She trained in Mobile during the week and traveled to Birmingham to play. As a result, Hoppa says, there were questions.
"She basically had made up her mind she was coming to Auburn no matter what," says Hoppa, who worked with her in the Olympic Development Program. "Being from Mobile and playing for a Birmingham club, she didn't get to play with them all the time. When you evaluated her as a recruiter, that made her inconsistent. She wasn't always great."
It was in Denmark, where Ball was playing with a group from the Alabama OPD with Hoppa on the coaching staff, that the coach finally saw enough to offer her a scholarship.
"That's where I really saw how special she was. That's what made the difference. A lot of other SEC schools didn't recruit her. The way she played in Denmark was just at another level. It sold me that there was something special there.
"She has really proven herself."