For the past four years, senior defender Ofori Sarkodie has ruled Jerry Yeagley Field at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
While his kingdom only stretches 75 yards wide by 120 yards long, his reign will undoubtedly earn him a spot on a professional soccer squad.
Soccer royalty, however, does not even touch the lineage that flows through his veins.
Ofori is a bloodline prince of the Ashanti tribe in Kumasi, Ghana.
“My grandmother is one of the Queen Mothers,” he said. “It’s like a figurehead and a level of respect. She maintains rituals of the tribe and answers all of their questions. Whenever someone special comes to the village or there’s a death, she’s a person they look to.”
The Ashanti people are a relatively large tribe spread throughout different areas of Ghana. Sarkodie’s grandmother, Nana Okodie, is one of the Queen Mothers in her village of Kumasi.
Because the title of Queen Mother and royal bloodlines are passed down maternally in the Ashanti tribe, Ofori Sarkodie – whose tribal name is Kwame, meaning “male born on Saturday” – inherited the family’s honor through his mother, Olivia Sarkodie.
“From the level of respect she’s accumulated in the village, you would consider us prince figures,” Ofori Sarkodie said of his grandmother.
He goes by Ofori, meaning “as strong as eagle,” because his older brother, Kwame Sarkodie, was also born on a Saturday and was given the name first.
Olivia Sarkodie moved to America at the age of 18 to become a nurse and raise a family in what she calls the “land of opportunity.”
“My mom is a queen in farming area,” said Olivia Sarkodie, who changed her name from Akosua upon immigrating. “There is not much richness there, so if you wanted richness and opportunity, you had to find it.”
Once Olivia Sarkodie and her husband, Amaning, began having children, Kwame, Ofori, Kofi and Mimi, she realized her hard work could be an investment in the tribe’s future.
Kwame Sarkodie currently plays professional soccer for the Rochester Rhinos, and Kofi Sarkodie plays defense for No. 1 Akron.
Ofori Sarkodie said whether professional soccer is in his future or not, he would like to
return to Ghana to help the Ashanti tribe.
Using talents acquired in America and taking them to Kumasi is a responsibility of her children, Olivia Sarkodie said.
“I thought if I work hard and invest a lot of things in them, they could afford to go back and help,” she said. “I will tell my kids, ‘People over there are waiting on you guys. Those people back home are waiting for you to put a water pump in, build a clinic, build a church.’
“Even though ‘queen’ sounds like the Queen of Britain, they are farmers. There’s practically nothing. Because of that, these kids have responsibility to do the best they can. They are waiting for them to come and make it better.”
Although Ofori Sarkodie and his siblings have never been to Ghana, they know Nana Okodie very well.
“She came here when I was very young,” Ofori Sarkodie said. “When my mom was going through nursing school and my dad was going through medical school and residency, she was the one who was home raising us.”
According to Ofori Sarkodie, Nana Okodie spent about 15 years traveling between Dayton, Ohio, and Kumasi, Ghana, to help raise her grandchildren and aid and counsel her people. All the while, she taught her grandchildren the Twi language and Ashanti culture, keeping them close to their roots.
“She was so influential on me and my development,” Ofori Sarkodie said. “Being raised by her and my parents provides an extreme amount of humbleness. I’m more focused on quality of people and making connections and relationships. The values they instilled in me are crucial points in my success as soccer player and person.”
Regardless of what Ofori Sarkodie does as a soccer player or professional in the workforce, he said family is what matters most – which will eventually lead him to finally meeting the dozens of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews in Kumasi who watch his every move as an IU men’s soccer player.
“Definitely seeing how much our family has helped out back home over however many years now, they would definitely embrace us,” he said. “It would be like, ‘The Sarkodie family has come back.’ But they would want to see how we would impact them with our experiences. I would have to take what I’ve done here and help benefit them.”
Olivia Sarkodie agrees.
“Everybody is waiting to see these kids,” she said. “Every phone call I make, everyone asks, ‘When are you coming home? When are you bringing the kids?’ When we get to our town, there is going to be a good time. That I know.”