The idea of Man of the Match has become part of the soccer vernacular. It might have originated with cricket, but now, as soon as a game of soccer is done — whether it’s a weekend pick-up game or a cup final — everyone’s ready to with an opinion about who contributed the most to the win.
Since the beginning of their partnership with Minnesota United in 2017, Bell Bank has been supporting the Man of the Match for the Loons in the spirit of their Pay It Forward initiative. Beginning in the 80th minute of the game, fans can place their vote on Man of the Match through Twitter, and the winner is honored with a $1,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
This way, the player who made the biggest difference on the field gets to make a difference off the field in the community by giving to a cause they select prior to the start of the season.
Loons defender Michael Boxall has tabbed Athletes Committed to Educating Students (ACES) for his charity.
“To me now, it’s more important to win it for them than it is about me,” said Boxall. “Obviously, every single game, you’re trying to give it your all. And I’m playing with a lot of very, very good footballers who are also doing the same. I don’t get a whole lot of them … because all the other good players on my team keep stealing those Man of the Match awards!”
ACES is an out-of-school program that focuses on using sports as a hook to get kids excited about math and social-emotional learning. It provides intentional, project-based curriculum for low-income students in grades four through eight in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
“Since my daughter has grown up and we’ve had another kid, we’ve started to look into what schools are around,” said Boxall. “I think the general consensus we’ve had is that Minnesota schools are pretty damn good. But then you go outside some of the nicer areas and you realize not all schools are getting the same level of funding. So: just to try to raise awareness around that and try to help. Make that gap smaller if possible.
“That kind of drew me to ACES, because I know from personal experience what education can do. Because [without] a scholarship to a university, I probably wouldn’t be in the position that I am now. I think that that gap is troublesome, so just to be able to play some small part in helping and not having any kids get left behind.”
For a long time, Minnesota has had some of the nation’s worst achievement gaps defined by race and income, which makes the work ACES is doing that much more crucial in the community.
Boxall’s parents instilled the value of education in him early, and he’s watched it work in his life. His involvement with ACES over the past four years has extended beyond the gameday honor alone. Boxall attends the ACES Education Foundation Gala every year and has done mentoring with the organization as well.
Asked about what he has enjoyed most in his relationship with ACES, he cites the connection with a young man named Julian.
“He came to one of our trainings and a couple of our games,” he said. “The whole team greeted him and I’m sure he had a great couple of hours down at the stadium with us when we were training there. The education opportunities that ACES provide are massive, but then, just to give them experiences that they would never really expect to have, it’s so special to see the smiles on their faces when they get to meet some of their players up close.”
The time spent together has afforded Boxall the space to dive into important conversations with the students. He talks about how everyone – including himself – face hurdles, and it’s important to recognize them as challenges instead of a reason something can’t be done. He’s passed on the importance of perseverance, explaining it’s what truly shapes your character.
With the help of Bell Bank’s Man of the Match platform, Boxall is paying it forward, but he’s also getting back a broader perspective on the Twin Cities community that he genuinely values.
“I felt it’s more than just stepping on the football pitch and doing your job,” said Boxall. “For me, it’s about getting out there and seeing who I’m representing on the field. There’s a lot of people with a lot of different stories that come to our games, that watch on TV, that just play football, that just play sports in general. I think, especially in professional sports, you can get stuck in your own little bubble. So it’s nice to get outside that.”
For more information on ACES, head to https://aces4kids.org.