FARGO - The first soccer ball Fargo Davies sophomore Yonas Adams ever kicked was a plastic bag filled with garbage that he tied and sewed together. He carried it around with him everywhere in the streets of Abomsa, Ethiopia.
If Adams were still in those streets, after both his parents had died, he'd be lucky to have a job washing cars or shining shoes.
Yonas is not washing cars or shining shoes. He will help lead Fargo Davies into the North Dakota state boys soccer tournament, which opens Thursday, Oct. 11., in Grand Forks, his first home in the United States.
Adopted by Kim and Dave Adams, Yonas now has dreams of playing college soccer.
"There's a lot more opportunities to look at for school and soccer," Yonas said. "There's a lot more to do than back home. There would be no school for me back home and no opportunity."
Yonas never really knew his father. He was told at a very young age that his father, who had served in the Ethiopian National Defense Force, had died. As for his mother, Yonas remembers watching her die when he 7 years old. He knew she was sick, but he assumed she'd get better.
"She was full of life," Yonas said. "She cared about us a lot and worked every day to keep us in school. It was pretty awful. I thought she was going to get better."
Friends of his mother attempted to take care of Yonas and his four siblings, but he ended up in three different orphanages for the next three years of his life. He was with his younger brother, Natnael, but separated from his other brother and two sisters.
Kim, a campus minister at Crossroads Lutheran Campus Ministry at North Dakota State, and Dave, a pastor at First Lutheran Church in Fargo, originally started the adoption process with paperwork in Uganda. That paperwork sat for a couple years until they were told no more adoptions were being processed. At around the same time, Kim traveled to Ethiopia. She saw older children at orphanages waiting to be adopted and thought about adopting someone that wasn't necessarily a baby. They switched their paperwork to Ethiopia.
It was a short time after filing their paperwork, Kim received a newsletter highlighting children who are waiting for adoption in Ethiopia. At the top of the newsletter were pictures of Yonas and Natnael. Kim looked at the pictures and said, "I'm pretty sure these are my sons."
"I've explained it to people, it felt the same thing to me as seeing a positive pregnancy test," Kim said. "It was all hope and possibility. At that moment, there's really nothing else to describe it."
Dave was about to go on a camping trip and wouldn't be able to communicate for a week, so Kim quickly sent a picture of the boys to him before he left and so began the process of bringing Yonas and Natnael to Grand Forks.
Kim calls the moment she met Yonas and Natnael like a scene out of a movie. They were the only two children in the courtyard at the orphanage and they sprinted to Kim and Dave to jump in their arms.
"We felt connected," Kim said. "I think I saw in their faces hope and loss. To adopt never meant for us that it was about us making their lives better. It was a possibility how we could do life together. Sure, there are some opportunities that are better, easier, more convenient, but that doesn't come without a whole list of losses to give up everything they've ever known for this."
Kim and Dave officially said yes to the two joining their family of five in June of 2013. It wasn't until April of 2014 that Yonas and Natnael arrived in Grand Forks. It snowed the day after the two arrived. Yonas saw that it was sunny and figured he could go outside in shorts and a T-shirt. It wasn't a warm welcome to North Dakota, as the temperature was in the 30s.
"To be honest, I liked it," Yonas said.
Yonas immediately wanted to get on a soccer field. He found one quickly, playing varsity for Grand Forks Red River as an eighth-grader. In fact, Davies head coach Ian Costello got his first look at Yonas when he scored the winning goal against the Eagles that season.
"He stood out for me at the state tournament as an eighth-grader," Costello said. "I sat on the sideline because we didn't make it and took note of his name. He was a spark of energy for that Red River team."
Yonas returned the favor, scoring the game-winner against Red River the next season, after his family had moved to Fargo and he joined the Davies soccer team. Yonas was part of the Eagles' run to the state championship match last season.
"I've really experienced here what it means knowing that a team cares about you," Yonas said. "I really enjoy this group. We work for each other on the field. We have our ups and downs, but we fix it on the field. We play hard for each other. I feel really connected with this team."
Yonas has turned the Adamses into a soccer family. They wake up at all hours to watch matches on TV. Kim says she loves watching Yonas play the game.
"I just love watching him discover anything, when he puts it together that this might not have been an option," Kim said. "They've seen more loss and pain than you and I could ever imagine and they thrive. Even when I see pain and hurt from them, when days are hard, it's like I watch redemption be his entirely on the field. All of that pain, all of his story, soccer encapsulates it all. That's where he's the most sure of himself."
Yonas calls Kim mom, Dave dad and the three Adams children are his siblings. There's been adjusting. He's seen stares when he and his family are together and been questioned as to how he'll pay for something when stepping up to a cash register. He points to Kim and says, "Well, my mom is right there."
"We need to all keep an open mind," Yonas said. "Don't judge the color of skin or where someone is from. We need to try to be better."
Yonas came to the country knowing very little English and thinking a cheeseburger at Applebee's was the best food in the country. Eating with utensils was odd and the weather was confusing. He had never had his own bed in Ethiopia, sharing a room with his four siblings before his mom died and a twin bed at the orphanages.
He didn't hesitate when asked what his biological mom would think about him having his own room, discovering a new culture, going to school and playing soccer.
"She'd be proud and happy that I got to experience new life and my new chapter instead of what it used to be," Yonas said.