SPRING HILL — Seventeen-year-old Warren Backman lives a comfortable life.
He represents the third generation of a thriving business family in Hernando County. He is the son of a former professional soccer player and has pursued the game himself since he was a toddler. He attends private school in Tampa. And he's a world traveler.
It's his travels that helped open his eyes to the world's less fortunate.
"My dad's from South Africa," Backman said. "When I last went to South Africa — I was in the sixth grade — we were just driving around Johannesburg, and as we were driving we saw just this dusty old open field, and there were kids, hundreds of them, (playing soccer).
"They had two little shoes to mark where the goals were. They were kicking around cans and rocks, anything round.
"What baffled me was they had nothing, and they were so happy, content that they could run around and play. I turned to my dad and asked how they could be so happy without anything.
"I asked Dad, 'What would they do if they had proper equipment?' "
That scene, and the question, stuck with the Spring Hill teenager, now a senior at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, and prompted him to start a charity, Score for South Africa.
For about a year, Backman has been collecting new and "gently used" essentials to play the game of soccer: balls, shin guards, cleats, socks, "anything that we could give them to use."
Backman has lobbied members of his youth soccer club, Tampa Bay United, to donate equipment they might have outgrown or upgraded.
He stores the donations at the Smart Interiors furniture store in Spring Hill that his parents, Derek and Kimberly Backman, manage.
While most donations fall into the "gently used" category, some people have purchased new items to deposit in the barrels and boxes Backman has provided and serviced with the help of his dad, a former professional soccer player with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay Mutiny.
Plans are under way, the teenage founder said, to extend solicitation to other soccer clubs in the Tampa Bay area.
From an introduction to charity work during his sophomore year, including a community service requirement, Backman learned it wasn't enough merely to collect. A recipient designation outline and a distribution plan were needed.
Backman turned to his uncle, Derek Backman's brother, Trevor, a resident and missionary in South Africa who visited his relatives in Spring Hill last summer.
"We discussed charities in South Africa and how (Trevor Backman) would organize this so it was properly done," the younger Backman said. "He would use his missionary connections to give (the equipment) to children or any kids who need it."
The teen conjured up another outlet. His grandparents, Murray and Delores Smart, have a condo and business extension in Aruba, with clients across the Caribbean and into South America.
"With (Grandmother's) connections, she has been able to expand my charity to Colombia. So, there's distribution to Colombia, Aruba and South Africa, much higher than my expectations to start with," Backman said.
The first big box of donations was sent recently to South Africa, with hopes that it would arrive in time for Christmas.
His grandfather said the entire family is proud of Backman's desire to help others.
"We think it's exciting that a kid his age would think of this," Murray Smart said.
The teen's response: "There are other people who do nice things, too."
Backman will have an opportunity to see his charitable work in action next year. As a high school graduation gift, his parents intend to send him on a trip to South Africa.
Then, come fall, it's off to college, where Backman will continue to play the game he loves.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound left back is being recruited by Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., Drew University in Madison, N.J., and Emerson College in Boston.
Beth Gray can be reached at email@example.com.