This story was published in the Idaho Statesman on June 5, 2011.
When he was 13, Atticus Hoffman had an idea. Actually, the seed was planted years before, when he was 10 years old. On vacation in Sweden with his family, they went to the Gothia Cup, the largest and most international gathering of youth soccer players in the world — more than 35,000 from 70 countries.
He says: “Teams from Uganda and Zimbabwe, from America and Europe and Bosnia — every corner of the planet. (I thought) wow. That is so cool how soccer brings so many people together.”
Back at home around the dining room table — ground zero for ideas and questions for his family — he and his parents mulled how something like that could happen in Boise. That something ended up being the One World Soccer Camp.
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“After this, I’m a full believer in having the biggest idea possible.”
An avid soccer player, Atticus rode his bike around Boise, asking organizations open-ended questions like, “Well, if this falls into place, will you be there to support us? They were like, yeah, if you actually do this, then sure,” he recalls. “I don’t think a lot of people had much faith.”
“(The camp) invented itself through the process of asking people for support in the community. Boise’s second to none in the world. It’s incredible. ...”
Atticus was 14 years old in 2007 when he, some soccer buddies, a coach and a handful of volunteers hosted the first One World Soccer Camp — a free week’s worth of training and fun for refugee kids where the one common language was soccer.
“I’ve said this a million times: It was a lesson in the power of something to break down barriers.”
Over the years, the camp evolved from the ragtag idea to a well-run volunteer operation; from surviving its first day to supporting refugee kids on year-round recreational teams.
“It was (also) a lesson in ideas. (A lesson) about not limiting yourself, and not being cynical, and going, ‘Well, that probably won’t work, it’s probably a little too crazy.’
The “crazy idea” will mark its fifth year of existence this summer, as well as its first camp without Atticus.
A week ago, he graduated from Boise High School, a 4.0-scholar. Now 18, he’s the son of filmmaker Michael Hoffman and screenwriter Samantha Silva, and as you read this, he’s already in London on a movie set with his family.
“Boise has been my childhood — really, my innocence. ... It’s where I’ve grown up. I don’t know if it will always be my home, but it will always be my childhood. It’s sad to let go of.
“I don’t necessarily want to grow up — but I’m really excited to be growing up, as well.”
Atticus actually has little interest in the film industry (”I always joke with my parents that when I grow up, I’m going to get a real job”), but he recognizes that growing up as he did — living in London, Rome and New York City, with vacations in Turkey and Sweden — has fostered an intense fascination with the world.
“The combination of being interested in history and getting to go to the places where history had happened ... got me interested in stories.”
Stories and asking questions. Both were key to those discussions around the dinner table.
“When I was a little kid, whenever I had a question, even if my dad wouldn’t know the answer, my dad would always encourage me to ask. I could ask a million questions.
“You start asking questions about the bigger world. You start understanding history. I question these things, and when you question, you want to go find the answers.”
Now that he’s older, graduated and looking to a future that spans the world, he’s mesmerized by the groundswell for democracy in the Middle East (which he’s never visited).
“That’s where the story is being told. I mean, there are stories everywhere. (But) that’s the one that interests me.
“That’s where the questions are happening, so I figure that’s where you go find (the answers). It’s where the world’s eyes are focused, where history is unraveling.
“I feel like the Middle East is like the calculus of foreign policy. It is so complicated and complex, and there’s so much work — it is endlessly fascinating to me.”
His plan, still evolving, is to study international relations at the American University of Beirut.
“I’m completely taking a risk; it could be a complete flop. But that’s what ideas are all about. Win one, lose one — and the one you win makes up for the one you lost.
“I think people don’t necessarily make their greatest achievements if they just do what is best for them. You have to take risks. You have to go on adventures.”
No matter what, he’ll have a good story to tell. And perhaps that’s not all. As he talked about the meaning of life, Atticus paused wisely.
“I’m never going to be able to answer that question. ... The most important thing is the process of trying to find the answer — the journey to find the answer, and the experiences you come away with.
“But by doing things to try and answer the question, you make your life worthwhile. And maybe that is the answer to it, after all.”