Bay Area couple produce durable soccer ball

The image is still so clear for Tim Jahnigen: a documentary of

Darfur refugees playing a makeshift soccer game with their ratty

ball of trash and twine.

That scene could be from other poverty-stricken nations across

the world, too. Jahnigen envisioned a durable ball that would

survive anywhere.

“It’s been four or five years ago when I saw the documentary

and it just triggered a very emotional response,” Jahnigen said.

“I hate to see children suffer. All of a sudden when I saw these

children kicking rag balls, cans and boxes in the videos, it hit me

like a thunderbolt.”

And there began the One World Futbol Project.

Jahnigen put his mind to inventing a ball that would never wear

out, one he insists is the most durable of any “futbol” out

there, made of closed cell foam and similar material to those

popular rubber Crocs sandals. It won’t go flat or ever need

pumping, even remaining playable if punctured – Jahnigen knows

because he took a knife to one during testing and it survived – and

will withstand the rigors of the world’s harshest environments.

No pumps or needles necessary. Give it a good squeeze and you’ll

hear air leaving the ball only to see it inflate itself again.

Sharp rocks, barbed wire, extreme heat or cold don’t affect this

ball. It is designed to get use on gravel or concrete with no

problems.

On Monday at the Johannesburg Zoo, the ball was thrown into a

lion’s pen. The cat played with the ball to the point of exhausting

itself, something zoo officials had never seen considering a

typical ball would last mere minutes.

While there were a few visible teeth marks afterward, the ball

otherwise remained intact.

“From that alone I can say it’s the world’s most durable

ball,” Jahnigen said.

The project will formally launch Thursday, at

www.oneworldfutbol.com, just in time for the closing days of the

World Cup in South Africa. The championship game is Sunday at

Soccer City in Johannesburg.

“The world’s attention is on soccer right now with the World

Cup,” said Jahnigen’s wife and project co-founder, Lisa Tarver.

“There were times we weren’t sure we’d get done for the World

Cup.”

Jahnigen has been in South Africa meeting with soccer and

nonprofit officials to publicize the ball and its benefits not only

on the field but for the needy. Some balls are already being used

in Haiti.

The One World ball sells for $39.50, and that includes the

purchase of a second ball to be donated through the “Buy One, Give

One” humanitarian model of the project. This is a for-profit

company with a nonprofit foundation.

The goal: give away one million balls in three years, beginning

where they are most needed, such as in war-ravaged nations like

Iraq and Afghanistan, refugee camps around the globe or inner-city

locations right at home in the United States.

“Anyone who wants to play soccer should have the opportunity

to,” Tarver said. “That’s our mission.”

This invention, Jahnigen hopes, will allow users to keep the

same ball and pass it down to the next generation.

“To give a ball to every child who needs one,” Jahnigen said.

“This ball could last from childhood to adulthood and we hope the

children we give this ball to in these challenged places will be

able to play with their children’s children.”

It was with a large initial financial contribution from singer

Sting that this project went from Jahnigen’s inspiration to

reality. Tarver’s expertise in the area of nonprofits and world

social issues provided the perfect support. One World Futbol

Project is named for Sting’s song “One World.”

Jahnigen and Tarver had their own money dedicated to another

business venture at the time, but Jahnigen is also a music producer

who has worked Sting’s Rainforest Benefit concert at Carnegie

Hall.

They were chatting one day in July 2008 when Sting mentioned a

friend who’d built a soccer field in the Gaza Strip. Jahnigen

mentioned his idea for the ball.

“He immediately turned to me and said: ‘That’s a really good

idea. Do you know how to make that happen?”’ Jahnigen said. “He

said, ‘If you’ll do it, I’ll pay for it.”’

Jahnigen already had a connection with the material

manufacturers in Canada.

At the start, the ball will be available in size 5 and in blue,

representative color of the United Nations. More colors and sizes

will follow. The One World ball is intended for recreational use

and training, not to replace a high-level competition ball used in

matches. It is produced in Canada and requires no hand stitching,

unlike standard soccer balls.

George Hopkins, a longtime elite soccer coach in Oakland, is

already using one of the balls in his camps and private

lessons.

For the 50-year-old Jahnigen, who lives in Berkeley, a sports

venture is something new. He and his wife run a business dealing

with another of his inventions, an infrared warming and therapy

technology system for animals for scientific and surgical

applications and also in the home.

“If you’d asked me four years ago if I’d be in the ball

business, I would have laughed. It’s been a great adventure and a

blessing,” Jahnigen said.

Jahnigen and Tarver are grateful for the support from Sting to

get this project running.

“It was suddenly obvious to me that putting a little money into

producing soccer balls like that could go a whole lot farther than

building soccer fields,” Sting said in a statement. “That’s the

moment when I decided to help Tim and get involved in developing

the One World Futbol.”

Jahnigen and Tarver have no idea what to expect in terms of a

response. Initial orders will be shipped starting next week, but

they acknowledge there could be a delay if the demand is high right

away.

“It’s this total unknown,” Tarver said. “Nobody’s ever done

this before. It really is all-terrain, all conditions, no matter

what.”

While a quality soccer ball ranges in cost from around $20 to

the $150 for the game ball being used in World Cup play, Jahnigen

and Tarver believe soccer fans or supporters of their cause will

spend a little extra knowing the One World ball will last and that

they are helping a cause.

Nonprofits or other programs will be able to buy the balls at a

discounted rate and others who want to help can donate if they

don’t want or need the ball themselves.

“It captures everyone’s attention on so many different

levels,” Tarver said. “It’s just been extraordinary the support

and involvement.”

Jahnigen has received positive feedback as he’s shared the ball

in South Africa.

“Every time I see children’s reactions to this ball … they’re

the ones who have shown me all along that we’re doing the right

thing,” he said.