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Ema Appenteng’s soccer journey from Ghana to Middletown and beyond.
There’s an inherent irony in the notion that St. Andrew’s dazzling soccer goalie Emmanuel Appenteng ’23—the guy charged with keeping things out—made the decision to come to Middletown for one very specific reason: to let other people in.
Appenteng, who quietly goes about the business of being a high-caliber student-athlete at St. Andrew’s, is a product of the highly selective international soccer academy Right to Dream, which identifies and trains soccer stars in the making. Not only does it invest in its students on the pitch, the organization helps prepare its students for a life after soccer by providing pathways to high school education, college athletics, and, just maybe, the pros.
Warm, endearing, quick with a smile and equipped with a disposition that feels both wise and youthful at the same time, Appenteng’s the kind of guy who makes it a point to stop and make faculty and staff children feel seen and heard; the kind of guy who changes the feel of a room simply by stepping into it.
The two-time First Team All Conference selection (2021 and 2022) and Second Team All-State (2022) Appenteng hails from a small village in Accra, Ghana, and contends he was “playing soccer in the womb.” Right to Dream was so taken with an 11-year-old Appenteng that they recruited him for the program. “They train you, they make you go to school, but they also work on building your character,” he says.
Becoming a Right to Dream kid is a pretty big deal. “Many Right to Dream kids play in college, some get drafted,” he says. “They scout from all over Ghana, so that is thousands and thousands of people.”
So big a deal, he admits sheepishly, that when he goes home to Ghana, he has to keep a low-profile so his friends and neighbors don’t mob him with questions about soccer and his life in America. It’s not yet at the point where he’s slinking around wearing a hat and sunglasses, but he tries to fly under the radar when his family travels around the country.
“It’s funny to me,” Appenteng says, laughing. “I have to hide myself a little bit.”
One thing he can’t hide? His sick acumen in net.
“Everyone in the state knows that it does not matter how great or poorly St. Andrew’s [soccer team] would play, you still had to get the ball past Ema Appenteng probably more than once in a game—and that was nearly impossible,” says Dean of Students and Head Soccer Coach Matt Carroll.
Appenteng was accepted at other schools with more robust, foundational soccer teams, yet he choose St. Andrew’s. Why? To open the door.
“I had friends telling me to go to school in Connecticut, where there is a higher level of play; I could have gone to school in Europe, but there has never been a Right to Dream student at St. Andrew’s,” he says. “There were places where I could step onto a field and everything was built for me. But if I said ‘no’ to St. Andrew’s, I’d be shutting the door for the next Right to Dream kid, maybe a kid from my own home. I had the opportunity to help build something here.”
“Ema’s greatest superpower is that he walks around here just like any other normal kid, but his journey and story is so vastly different than that of his classmates,” says Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Will Robinson ’97 P’26, who has been Appenteng’s advisor the past two years. “For all his talents, he's so incredibly humble. He's constantly working on his craft when no one's watching. Here’s a kid who hasn’t seen his family in about three years, but you’ll never hear him complain. He stays positive despite facing tremendous challenges."
Positive, happy and hopeful, still, in fact, as we talk through the worst-case scenario for a graduating senior with an athletic scholarship to play soccer at Ohio Wesleyan: a complete ACL tear.
In the third quarter of a lacrosse game in early April, Appenteng lost balance going for the ball, landed awkwardly, and heard that soft “pop” that athletes dread.
“I knew immediately,” he says. “I couldn’t get up. I was absolutely heartbroken.”
If such a thing is going to happen, Appenteng muses, at least it happened here, at St. Andrew’s, where his community has rallied around him.
“I have had so many people there for me,” he says. “My roommates, friends, coach, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, my Right to Dream friends and advisors, and of course my host family, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter and Billy [Hunter ’23], Emma [Hunter ’25], and Chris [Hunter ’26].”
Prior to the ACL tear, which has him carefully maneuvering St. Andrew’s campus on crutches as he awaits his April 21 surgery date, the soccer savant said he expected to arrive on Ohio’s campus and compete as a freshman for starting goalkeeper.
After? The record stands.
“I still think I will be able to prove that I can compete for starting goalkeeper,” Appenteng says. “Nothing changes.”
If you asked him what was worse—the ACL tear that will likely strip him of his first full year of college athletic play, or losing the state soccer championship his V Form year in 2021—it’d be a toss-up.
“When I decided to come to St. Andrew’s, I told [former Head of School] Mr. [Tad] Roach, ‘Sir, I am coming to St. Andrew’s, and don’t worry, we are going to win the state championship,’” Appenteng says. “That was my biggest ambition for my time here. Losing in the final … I will never stop wondering, ‘Should I have done something different?’ I was so distraught after that. Couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate. It took a while to get past it.”
Appenteng, like his coach, contends that the SAS 2020 boys soccer team, which saw their season cancelled due to Covid-19, was a state-title lock. “We were stacked with an unbelievable blend of toughness, skill, and experience that year,” Carroll says. “Yet it was Ema’s V Form year where the boys came together and enjoyed a remarkable run. Had Ema not performed like he did that season, we would have never made the finals. Every game during that postseason run, as well as the majority of games he’s played in, Ema prevented a goal due to a tremendous save or clearance. He only knows one speed: 100 percent.”
Ike Lawrence ’23 knows a thing or two about that 100 percent. Appenteng and Lawrence play the coveted role of hype-man to each other. “We really bonded over our love of soccer,” says Lawrence. Fast friends, Appenteng spent a few weeks with Lawrence’s family in Baltimore the summer before their V Form year.
“We spent those weeks getting in shape for preseason,” Lawrence says. “Sometimes I’d have trouble getting going in the morning, and Ema would be knocking on my door, like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go!’ He really pushed me to be a better athlete, but also a better person.”
He didn’t just push Lawrence—Appenteng pushed the whole team. “Ema does a lot of … ‘yelling’ we’ll say,” Lawrence says, laughing. “He’s really vocal. He outworks everybody, and his level of leadership over the past few years has unlocked a bond on our team that’s not like anything else.”
Lawrence, himself committed to college athletics—he’ll row at Dartmouth next year—says he’s been impressed with how Appenteng has handled his injury.
“It breaks my heart,” Lawrence says. “He’s such a compassionate, thoughtful person. It feels so unfair he’s been dealt this card, but I’ve seen his work ethic when he gets in the zone, and playing in college is the ultimate zone for him right now.”
As for his scholarship, it's safe and sound. “What Ohio has said is, ‘Injuries happen, and we know you will come back even stronger than before—we are so committed to you, and excited to have you join us,’” Appenteng says.
Appenteng is a few months removed from doing, yet again, what he has continued to do: step into a new world without the safety net of his family close by.
Coming to St. Andrew’s from Accra was a shock for Appenteng. “In Ghana, it’s very hard, economically,” he says. “People must work very, very hard. The culture there is very different from here.”
So different, in fact, it took Appenteng a while to get used to the St. Andrew’s drive-by smile.
“People just walk by you and say, ‘Hi! How are you?’ and smile,” he says. “That is so cool. St. Andrew’s was scary at first, to come so far to a place where not only did I not know anyone, but also, Right to Dream didn’t have a relationship here, either. I'm the first person in my extended family to ever travel outside of our country. But once I got the opportunity, you just feel like, ‘I'm going to do something great.’ And in the future, I will help my parents.”
It was in those early scary times that people just started showing up for Appenteng; four years later, they haven’t left, and likely never will. “I get a lot of invitations,” he says, laughing.
His loss will be felt on the pitch, says Carroll. “Simply watching him play the game with pure joy and skill is something that I’ll miss dearly,” he says. “When we would have shooting drills, I would tell the boys that in four minutes we need to score six goals or else we would run. Ema would give me a look, like, ‘Coach, are you kidding me? You think they will score on me?’ As you can imagine, the boys would often have to run. We’ll miss his energy, enthusiasm, huge smile, infectious personality, love of life, his leadership, and the belief that we could win any game because Ema was in net.”
What will Appenteng miss about St. Andrew’s? “Everything and everyone,” he says. “The things I’ll take with me are the importance of building relationships, of being nice, of taking time to do the little things like simply say ‘Hello.’ The school is such a part of me now, and will be forever.”
To that end, he hopes to stay engaged with his squad by aiding in recruiting other Right to Dream kids to come to St. Andrew’s.
Injury or no injury, Appenteng isn’t banking everything on soccer. It tracks that the guy who took a wild chance on St. Andrew’s just to open the door for the person behind him, an athlete who came to a team with the mindset to build something, hopes to become an architect.
“I have to come to the reality about me being the height I am. For modern goalkeepers [who play professionally], they look for height, especially in the US,” he says. “I’m not putting everything on soccer. I want to go to Ohio, I want to compete and make a difference for my team, and I want to get the education I need to fulfill my ultimate ambition to be an architect.”
Like so many who know him, Robinson is grappling with Appenteng’s impending departure.
“I am so proud of this kid,” he says. “The growth I’ve seen in him over his time here, and the challenges he’s faced … he’s figuring it all out. He’s just a few years removed from being fully wings-spread, and this place believed in him. More importantly, he believed in it. Here’s somebody who came here and didn’t waste a single minute. That’s why we’re here, for kids like Ema. Kids who make the most of their time here, and go out into the world and make it a better place—that’s what he’s going to do.”
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