LifestyleQueens University Charlotte

Soccer Unites Queens University Alumni For Community Good


Candace Cooper Murray ’03, ’08, John Horton ’03, and Oliver Carías ’04 became friends while attending Queens University of Charlotte. Murray was a nursing major, Horton studied communications, and Carías was pursuing a degree in business. Jackie Dargavel ’08, who received her bachelor’s degree in English, would later join their team of friends.

Despite having disparate areas of study, the four alumni shared one commonality: they all played soccer at Queens.

Their friendship has grown even stronger over the years. Maintaining the bonds between them — even more powerful than playing the sport — are their mutual love for the game, their shared values, and the call to serve. As a result of their combined efforts and connection, lives are being transformed in Charlotte and across the world.

A Game for the World

Soccer, known to those living outside of North America as “football,” is globally the number one sport, having an estimated 3.5 billion fans and at least 250 million people playing organized games regularly. It’s often referred to as “the beautiful game” — a term coined by 20th-century Brazilian soccer star Pelé.
To the group of friends from Queens, like many people across the globe, soccer is more than just a sport.

“Soccer is truly the one sport in the world that brings people together regardless of wealth, age, gender, race/ethnicity, and skill level,” said Horton.

“Soccer is a common unifier because of how many people love the game,” said Murray. “It’s a worldwide sport, so as we think about differences in maybe culture or language or economic status, soccer is the common denominator. It provides a bridge and an opportunity for people across all backgrounds to connect and, in this world right now, that is so needed.”

Dargavel agreed, noting that “one of my favorite examples of the impact soccer can have on the community is marked by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Africa.”

Despite the terrible tensions and acts carried out during the civil war, she said, “within weeks of the end of the genocide, soccer was one of the main catalysts for reconciling the devastated country when the warring tribes united to participate and support in a match, marking peace and hope, and igniting the path for healing.”

Not to be Served, But to Serve

All four alumni are Charlotteans, all are active servant leaders, and all were inspired by their experiences at Queens.

Horton is a certified fundraising executive who has been in nonprofit work for 21 years. He currently serves as executive director of the F3 Foundation, whose purpose is to bring together and support men through exercise and community. Dargavel — in addition to being a wife and a mother of four with a full-time job — contributes time to several organizations and at church.

Murray and Carías both worked at Queens after graduation; she was a graduate assistant in sports information while pursuing her master’s in health administration and he was an assistant coach for the men’s soccer team.

While at Queens, Murray was exposed to the world outside of the U.S. and had the opportunity to travel. In 2008, she co-founded Peace Passers — a nonprofit that collects, repurposes, and distributes soccer equipment to local and global communities without access.

“Many of the countries I visited were developing countries, and I would have a soccer ball with me, and it was like a magnet,” Murray said. The idea for Peace Passers came from “recognizing that not everyone has access to proper gear; kids were making soccer balls out of trash or fashioned out of pieces from trees — whatever they could find to have a makeshift ball at their feet.”

After having played on the national soccer team in his native country of Guatemala, Carías came to the U.S. to play collegiate soccer while attending Queens. He had to learn English as a second language before his first semester, and he quickly made friends on the soccer pitch.

“It felt like it was family, it felt like home,” said Carías. “I had a rich experience as a student, with caring professors and being a part of the community.”

All the while, he was forming deep, lasting connections to the Queen City, which became roots. Here, he said, he was able to not only grow personally but also enjoy the quality of life. In fact, he has now lived in Charlotte longer than he did in Guatemala. And, in 2011, he was named head coach of the Queens men’s soccer team and inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame for his contributions to the university’s athletics.

‘Kindness is Magic’

On a Monday afternoon in April, on the turf field of Chestnut Square Park in Indian Trail, North Carolina, members of the Queens men’s soccer team were joined by a group of children in bright tangerine-colored soccer jerseys.

The children, who belong to an organization called the Matthews Mavericks — a Charlotte nonprofit club that offers recreational and competitive soccer to youth free of charge — were there for another night of practice. This practice was different than most, though, in that collegiate soccer players were leading it rather than their usual volunteer coaches.

The Matthews Mavericks was founded by Jonny Sinclair, who was inspired to start the organization when he came over from England and recognized the extremely high cost in the U.S. for competitive youth soccer. This revelation hit home once he began looking for reasonably priced, quality soccer options for his own children. He saw that both cost and commitment were forcing families out of participation and children were missing out on being a part of the sport, which was strikingly different to the experience he had as a youth soccer player growing up in Europe. His vision was to remove the barrier of cost for kids to play competitively, and he was able to make it happen with the support of generous donors and volunteers. Matthews Mavericks was born in 2019; it now has nearly 200 youth on 10 teams with 30 volunteer staffers.

Murray and Dargavel have children who play in the club, and the two are active coaches, volunteers, and supporters. Horton, their fellow Queens alumnus, trains goalkeepers, and Dargavel’s husband, Ian, is a team coach for the “Mavs.”

“It’s a community of like-minded folks that understand the power of the sport. It’s positive, kind … and you see it spread from parents to their kids to the world,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair personally knows the value of being involved in the sport, and how it is “equalizing and unifying.” To emphasize the positivity, Matthews Mavericks have a motto — “Kindness is Magic” — printed on their shirts.

Coach Carías was introduced to the Mavs through his alumni friends, who often help at Queens soccer camps. It became evident that the soccer club and the university could form a valuable partnership. The Queens men’s soccer team has now been helping run Matthews Mavericks practice twice a year for four years.

Although being trained by NCAA Division 1 players is quite a remarkable experience for the Matthews Mavericks participants, the Queens collegiate team is also benefiting from the time spent with the young people.

“We are really trying to be intentional on how we provide our student-athletes with a meaningful experience that impacts the community. Our very diverse group of guys share the love of the game, and the kids can look up to them as role models,” said Carías.

A Lasting Connection

It’s obvious that soccer has not been the only common thread for Murray, Horton, Carías, and Dargavel. The other ties that bind — remaining engaged with each other and their community, with service at the forefront — have been integral aspects of their lives as well.

They all express appreciation for having learned, as students, the importance of service to others during their time at Queens.

“At Queens, it’s embedded to serve others, that it should always be a part of who you are and how you show up,” said Murray.

“Queens helped shape the entire trajectory of my life. It helped me become a better global citizen, a servant, a leader, with a foundation of learning that has served me immensely in my professional and personal life. I can’t imagine a better college experience than the one I had. And the Queens legacy and connection continues for me two decades later,” Horton said.

All four Queens alumni share an obvious love for “the beautiful game,” but they are also unmistakably passionate about uplifting communities and simply making the world a better place.

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