NORCROSS, Ga. — In challenging times, sports have always brought the city together and unity is needed now more than ever. The Atlanta Sports Council and 11Alive can’t think of a better way to re-energize the sports community and recognize the hard work of the athletes, teams and icons who continue to shape Atlanta’s sports history.
While many of the awards were voted on by you, The Atlanta Sports Council and 11Alive Sports determined the winners of a few categories, including the Positive Athlete Award, sponsored by Southern Company.
Atlanta United's Wasswa Robbins was selected for his work leading youth soccer outreach at The Lovett School and the Atlanta United Academy.
The announcement was first made on-air during 11Alive News, and a full presentation of the awards will be held Aug. 15 during a one-hour special.
On a late afternoon in Norcross, young children gather on a small playground for a soccer practice.
Led by the soccer ministry Upper90, 17-year-old Wasswa Robbins is helping lead a soccer camp after a full day of working and training with Atlanta United's Youth Academy.
"He knows his presence makes a difference in the life of these kids," said Jorge Vallejo, the founder of Upper90.
"My goal is to just to make an impact. Wherever I go," Robbins said. "I feel like it's part of my job to live it out, to serve these communities and invest in these young kids."
When Wasswa looks at the children, he seems himself. A boy, who loved to play soccer in his native village in Uganda.
"He cares for the kids. He loves them. He came from a difficult background that allows him to connect with the kids," Vallejo said.
That difficult background is more unimaginable than one would think just looking at Wasswa.
"At a very young age, I lost both my parents and my twin brother," Wasswa said, reflecting on his childhood. "After that, I lived with my biological grandmother. She basically raised me. I'm so grateful and thankful for her.
"Not knowing who your parents really were and not having their image in your brain, it's hard," he added. "Because of my faith, it's what's been the number one factor that's helped me overcome so much."
In 2007, a non-profit worker named Roxanne Robbins was working in Uganda with the group Samaritan's Purse. While on a drive between cities, she noticed kids playing soccer. She stopped on the side of the road and spotted one kid in particular, Wasswa.
Over the next few months, Robbins would visit Wasswa. Over time, his health began declining, and he was nearly starving to death. Robbins made an arrangement with Wasswa's grandmother to get him help.
"She basically met me on the side of the road. Took me to get medical attention because I was not well," Wasswa said.
After seven years serving in Uganda and helping Wasswa by starting his education and teaching him English, Robbins adopted Wasswa. They eventually moved to Georgia. She enrolled him at The Lovett School and surrounded him with mentors, like her close personal friend Chief Justice Harold Melton
"I remember her saying that she was going to adopt this young man," Melton said. "That she had fallen in love with him."
An act of love and service saved Wasswa. And he would continue to pay that love and service forward.
While he adapted to life in America and learned a new culture, Wasswa carried with him his love for the beautiful game.
"Growing up in Uganda, soccer was my passion," he said. "It still is."
Wasswa's coach at Atlanta United, Rodrigo Rios, calls him fast and quick, and he is impressed by his quiet leading abilities.
"I think he finds joy in winning with the team," Rios said. "When you have better persons, you've got better players ... Wasswa's a perfect example of that."
Each summer, Wasswa takes the skills he's learned at the youth academy and travels to Uganda to teach the kids in his village what he's learned, all while Robbins drills wells for those in Uganda with her organization Tukutana.
Beyond soccer, Wasswa's very smart and has received numerous scholarships for his academics and community service. He started a club at Lovett called "Africa Interactive." It's a club where the students interact with those Wasswa grew up with through projects and letters.
"It's been a joy to watch them open their eyes to new circumstances," Wasswa said.
"You can see by what he's passionate about, not by what he said, but what he's done. That passion is going to take him somewhere. But more importantly, take other kids somewhere," Melton said.
Even though Wasswa's left his native village, he hasn't left the people there behind.
"One thing that my grandmother said to me before I moved to the United States, she said 'remember where you came from. Remember who you are'," Wasswa said. "'Remember to always come back.' That's my goal, is to always go back and show the kids there my story. That I've had a hard beginning, but overcome."
- Week of July 27: Lifetime Achievement Award announcement
- August 3: Outstanding Coach presented by The Home Depot
- August 4: Outstanding College Athlete
- August 5: Outstanding Esports Competitor
- August 6: Unsung Hero Award presented by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
- August 7: Positive Athlete presented by Southern Company
- August 10: Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Coca-Cola
- August 11: Top Sports Moment presented by Mercedes-Benz
- August 12: Outstanding Professional Athlete presented by Truist
- August 13: Outstanding Sports Team
- August 14: Team 11 High School Athlete (High School category determined by 11Alive)
- August 15: One-hour special airs on 11 Alive at 7 p.m.
- August 16: One-hour special re-airs on 11 Alive at 11 a.m. and at 8 p.m. on WATL