The Prince of TMU soccer

By Steven Barrera

As the sun sets over the soccer field, the air is filled with cheers and the thud of feet hitting the ball. Amid it all, one player stands out, a young man from Blantyre, Malawi who has made his way to the United States to pursue his passion for soccer. With skill and determination, he is becoming a rising star in the world of American soccer. This is the story of his journey from the soccer fields of his homeland to the bright lights of the U.S., and how he is making his mark on the sport he loves.

This man is Prince Chingancheke of The Master’s University’s men’s soccer team.

Malawi is a developing country in Africa and due to a poor economy, and many kids there do not have the opportunity to go to school. With extra time on their hands, kids in Malawi often take up soccer. 

“I was blessed to have a family that was able to send me to school. Whenever I had the chance, I would go back home and play soccer,” Chingancheke said.

While Chingancheke loved playing soccer with his friends, his parents were not fans of him playing, primarily his father, Cossam. He had previously played soccer but had to choose between college and soccer. He chose college because he knew soccer would lead to a high-paying job.

“When I used to come home from school, he realized that I played a lot of soccer,” Chingancheke said.

Taking notice of all the time Prince spent playing soccer, Cossam gave him a curfew in hopes it would discourage him. It did not. Eventually, Cossam realized that Prince was just going to keep breaking curfew, so he dropped it.

When Prince began high school at the Kamuzu Academy he started playing for the school’s soccer team. This was his first time playing organized soccer, and while Chingancheke was excited, his father was not. He told him you must choose school or soccer, but you cannot choose soccer. So Prince appealed to talk to his coach. Following their conversation his coach spoke with Cossam about the benefits of allowing him to play. 

Ultimately, Cossam relented, but with a stipulation: Prince could pay as long he passed all his classes. This set a fire in Prince to do well in school, and Cossam noticed that he was more than capable of doing both school and soccer. In fact, when Prince was not playing soccer, his grades would slip. 

“That helped my dad realize that soccer is a big factor on how I did in class. It made him more comfortable that I was playing soccer and going to school,” Chingancheke said. 

While Chingancheke was playing in high school he decided that he wanted to play at the college level. But he did not just want to play soccer in college. He wanted to go to college in Canada. 

“After my third year of high school I was really locked in on Canada. I really do not know why, it was probably because of the snow,” he said.

However, Chingancheke had no idea how to make his dream a reality. Then in his last year of high school a teammate told him about Chisomo Idea Academy, an organization that gives athletes from Malawi a chance to play outside of the country. In previous years, the organization sent out two players–Humphrey Mahowa and the second was Benji Tembo–to The Master’s University. The organization was preparing to send another player to TMU–Chingancheke’s teammate Steven Banda.

While Chingancheke was excited for Banda, he wondered how he might become a part of this organization. So he spoke with his friends about the possibility of helping him get an opportunity. Tembo spoke with TMU men’s soccer coach Jim Rickard, and things took off from there. 

“I didn’t have any film or videos of how good I am because I didn’t know how I was going to make it out. So, when I was playing games in high school, I never thought about taking videos of my games,” Chingancheke said.

Chingancheke worried there was no way for coach Rickard to judge his abilities 

“What if coach Rickard does not think I’m serious about playing since I don’t have film?” he wondered.

He asked Tembo to put in a good word for him and hoped for the best. That would prove to be enough because coach Rickard took a leap of faith and was able to get Chingancheke on the team.

“Tembo was such an amazing player, and he knew Prince. I trusted Tembo,” Rickard said. “It also helped that Prince was on the Malawi U17 national team as well. He had great credentials and an incredible player vouching for him.”

Chingancheke was in disbelief when he heard the news that he was on the team. As the weeks went by, and the time for Chingancheke to come to America came closer, the excitement turned into fear. Fear of being alone in a different country, fear of being away from family, and fear of starting university. After having a heartfelt talk with his father about his fear he calmed down. There was still one fear he had and that was because TMU was a Christian university.

Before this point Chingancheke never had thought much about his faith; his family was Christian, so he believed he was Christian and that was it. So, he spoke with his dad and a pastor where they told him about the gospel.

“After that peace came over me. It was something that I can’t really describe but all the anxiety and fear went away and all the excitement I had was back,” Chingancheke said.

Since being at TMU he says all the chapels, and the Bible classes have helped him grow. While life as a student at TMU was great, his athletic life wasn’t going as planned. “Back home there is not a big emphasis on physique and how big you should be. You just have to have the ability and skills,” Chingancheke said.

Playing against bigger, stronger players made it difficult. Additionally, he had to learn about weightlifting so he could continue to play alongside players that were bigger than him.

“I think after seeing the physical demands of the college game, Prince became dedicated to getting stronger. Not only to withstand the demands from the opponents but also to keep him durable for a long season,” Rickard said.

Even though he was in the weight room, Chingancheke was still prone to injuries. That is exactly what happened in the season opener in 2019 against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical after an attempted slide tackle broke his leg. This injury kept him sidelined for the better part of a year. When he returned and was able to play his chances were once again halted. This time not due to injury but due to the pandemic. 

The season was postponed until spring, and again when his opportunity to play came, it was taken away after another injury that kept him out for another year. 

Finally healthy, Chingancheke is enjoying the freedom to work on his game – his defense, in particular.

“His defense has gotten much better as he has grown accustomed to the demands of soccer in the U.S.,” said coach Rickard. He is also seeing growth in the reason he plays the game he loves.

“Looking back, soccer was becoming an idol to me and this was God redirecting my focus to Him,” Chingancheke said.

Even though the injuries were painful, Chingancheke is glad to have gone through it because it helped him grow closer to God. Through the injuries, he learned to trust in God and His plans and to know that God is in control. 

Chingancheke is looking forward to a new season where he will be able to display his skills.

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