Thursday, August 20, 2015
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern
It was 8th grade, the watershed year where more challenging high school classes are on the horizon -- and, generally, a stressful time for kids.
Sebastian Duque faced even greater challenges. The immigrant from Colombia not only was in an unfamiliar place with few friends and support outside of his family, but he spoke very little English
In stepped DC SCORES.
Enrolled at Oyster-Adams Middle School, joining DC SCORES was a no-brainer for Sebastian, an already talented soccer player. In the program, Sebastian found much more than a soccer team. He received consistent support in his learning of English, mentors in his coaches, and positive friends in his teammates. In just one year, Sebastian blossomed into a leader ready for his next step.
"They prepared me both physically and mentally for the challenges that high school provides," Sebastian said of his coaches.
Sebastian strengthened his relationships with coaches and peers the spring before high school during DC SCORES summer camp.
And a couple of months later Sebastian not only earned a place on Wilson High School's varsity team, he also joined an Arlington Soccer Association travel team in neighboring Virginia.
Playing year-round for his new teams meant committing an unprecedented amount of time and energy to soccer. Practices were three days a week at a field 20 minutes away in Arlington. Sebastian, however, maintained an even keel, splitting his focus evenly between academics and soccer and leaning on many of the lessons learned in DC SCORES to not get too distraught after a loss or a difficult school experience.
Then, midway through his junior year, an even greater challenge was presented. Sebastian was offered enrollment at West Virginia University as well as a spot on their perennially strong varsity soccer team.
|Sebastian posing after winning the WVU |
"Playing for WVU was great, but it was hard work -- especially managing soccer and academics," he said.
It was for exactly that reason -- the time commitment that playing a Division 1 college sport requires -- that Sebastian decided to shift his focus after his freshman year.
As a civil engineering major at WVU, and with two parents in the same field, the pressure to study outweighed the importance of a college soccer career.
But that hasn't diminished Sebastian's passion for the sport -- he now competes with his best friends on the WVU club team -- and the impact soccer can have on young lives..
For five weeks this summer, Sebastian could be found on the vibrant green soccer field turf at Marie Reed Elementary School leading the soccer component of Summer SCORES camp -- helping to mold young players to follow in his footsteps.
"It's like me seeing myself in those kids," Sebastian said, "and me trying to think about what I needed back then — for me to be a better person today."
It's been a circuitous route for Sebastian, but he is doing exactly what he always wanted to: serving the community and continuing his passion for soccer.
Monday, August 10, 2015
Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern
It was a cool evening at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights area of DC.
The stadium lights were beginning to turn on, a Latino radio station was playing crowd favorites, and the mouth-watering scent of chorizo and beef on the grill was attracting scores of people from around the neighborhood.
The main event, however, was on the field where the U19 DC SCORES alumni team was set to take on long-time rivals La Marita Junior (LMJ) in the annual Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) Cup Tournament.
Crowds filled the bleachers and once the opening whistle blew, an exciting match ensued with both teams possessing multiple scoring opportunities.
Despite their best effort, the DC SCORES team was ultimately defeated 2-1 by their rivals.
While disappointed, coach Popsie Lewis encouraged his players to remain optimistic, reminding them how insignificant just one game -- even a rivalry -- is and to look ahead to the next one. The team was just one of Popsie's, too, and was sponsored by Accurate Conceptions. He also coached a U-15 DC SCORES team in the annual event. And coach Asa Davis led a DC SCORES girls team sponsored by District Sports to the tournament championship in their division!
|Coach Popsie Lewis talks to his DC SCORES U-19 team at halftime of their OLA Cup Tournament game.|
"A majority of the kids know each other," Popsie said of the rivalry, "from elementary, and once they get to middle and high school they start playing on these different teams, and it becomes a neighborhood rivalry."
While moving on to different schools may have caused a small rift between the players -- on the field, at least -- the friendships which underlie their history remain firm.
As the vibrant and diverse crowd dispersed from the Bell soccer field, the family-like camaraderie of the Columbia Heights community presented itself in the hustle and bustle of the streets.
In just the two minutes I spent walking with Coach Popsie, a number of friends and strangers -- some from the opposing LMJ team -- called out to tell him "good game" or "best of luck."
My biggest takeaway from the event: any time soccer can bring the community together like OLA has -- win, lose or draw -- it's a celebration for everyone.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
When Claudia Umaña heard that her nonprofit employer, Women’s Policy, would be co-hosting a briefing on how sports can improve girls’ health and partnering with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, her interest was immediately piqued.
Claudia, a Program Associate at Women’s Policy for almost a year now, loves soccer and her eyes light up whenever anyone speaks of the beautiful game. So she was there on June 16, when DC SCORES participant Nohemy talked about how much being active and playing for her school meant.
The briefing brought back a flood of memories for Claudia, who participated in DC SCORES for four years in the mid-2000s at Bancroft Elementary School. She was also surprised when Nohemy, at least eight years her junior, recognized Claudia from having seen her play.
For Claudia, a 2014 Lafayette College graduate, working with Women’s Policy to ensure opportunities in sport and other areas for girls like Nohemy is extremely gratifying.
“I take a great amount of pride because that means these girls are being active but also being treated equally and taking advantage of sports in general that maybe before —even before my generation — (they) could not,” Claudia said recently.
The supportive team-based structure DC SCORES provided paved the road for not only Claudia's successful education, but also her brother’s. Together, they’ll be the first from their family to graduate not just from college — but high school, too.
|Claudia, second from the right, with her Wilson teammates. Claudia began playing organized soccer in DC SCORES.|
Her mother, an immigrant from El Salvador, worked tirelessly to support the family and came to Claudia’s DC SCORES games at Bancroft in the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood when she could. But on most days, Claudia was on her own during the after-school hours — and needed to keep tabs on José.
That responsibility would weigh down any elementary school child, but Claudia’s burden was lightened when José followed in her footsteps and joined the DC SCORES team in third grade.
“The reason he started — I sort of told him about the Bancroft program,” Claudia said. “We did basically the same thing.”
Just like Claudia, José could count on a positive, structured and safe environment — five days a week between 3-6pm. And during those hours, as Claudia finished her time at Bancroft and then moved on to Alice Deal Junior High, she needn’t worry. José, wearing that signature yellow Bancroft uniform, was just fine.
“I do remember feeling like a huge weight was off my shoulders,” Claudia recalled. “But also I wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed in the sense of, I didn’t have to worry about him, I didn’t have to know where he was because I knew where he was and I knew that he was safe and I knew that he was having fun.
|Claudia won three DCIAA championships during her four years at Wilson!|
Given the freedom to focus mostly on herself and her teams, Claudia continued to hone her soccer skills — excelling at Deal and then winning three D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA) championships as a star defender at Wilson High School.
José followed his older sister to Deal and then Wilson, becoming pretty good at soccer himself.
“I knew that he was good,” Claudia laughed. “I would never admit this to him, but he was better than I was.”
This summer, José is preparing to begin his senior year as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he occasionally plays soccer but more importantly is in line to become the second member of his family to graduate with a college degree.
|As the first from her family to graduate |
from high school and go to college,
Claudia studied at Lafayette College and
spent a semester in South Africa!
“I love soccer and anyone that asks me now, I always say soccer (is my favorite sport),” Claudia said. “I’m a huge soccer fanatic.”
Claudia played pickup games with the boys growing up, but it wasn’t until a teacher suggested she join the Bancroft team that her passion for the sport reached another level.
“I always liked soccer but I developed the love once I got to play soccer (on a team),” she said.
That passion pushed Claudia to stay on top of her academics. At Bancroft, as we wrote about last fall, everyone wants to be on the DC SCORES team and students must perform well in school to play in the games. It motivated her to continue playing during middle school and high school – and to encourage José to do the same.
And it’s why she gushes with pride, in her current role, when she hears current DC SCORES participants such as Nohemy speak about the influence being on a team has on them.
Because Claudia’s been there. She’s experienced it. And she know how real it is.
It changed her and her brother’s life — all for the better.
“Because DC SCORES had such a large impact on my life, I was so glad to hear that younger generations were still appreciating and being involved in this program,” Claudia said of watching Nohemy speak.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern
Spending time with your caring step-father and wildly energetic little brother can be quite the task for a bashful pre-teen girl. Being on the same soccer team as them, along with the rest of your 5th grade friends, is that much harder.
However, one DC SCORES participant is managing both the new responsibility her step-father's assigned and the occasional embarrassment her little brother is quick to provide, and is growing and maturing in spite of it all.
Nancy C., an 11-year-old student at Marie Reed Elementary School, has been a participant for the last two years in DC SCORES' afterschool programs.
Nancy's step-father, Elver Garcia, joined DC SCORES as a volunteer coach that same year, and has led her Marie Reed team since. Eight-year-old brother Melvin, is a new addition to SCORES, and ignoring the annoyance of her sister, has made a presence at camp as one of the loudest and most energetic players at Reed.
While it may be the off-season, Nancy's step-father, Elver Garcia, is still eager to see his kids on the field, and gets off work whenever he can to pick up his step-children from camp.
Having the family together is something that Elver deeply appreciates, and seeing them enjoy the same game he grew up playing gives him that extra bit of joy; "I remember as a kid, back in my country, playing in the streets, dirt, everything; it was breakfast, lunch and dinner" he says.
Elver's history playing soccer in El Salvador, the country where he was born and raised, is what originally captured Nancy's attention and drew her to the game.
And while she's developed a passion for soccer similar to that of her step-father, keeping the family dynamic separate from the team has proven quite complicated for both.
On Elver's side, the biggest difficulty has come in battling the innate desire to push your child to succeed.
When asked what it's like having your kid's involved in something you love, he replied "It's a plus and it's a challenge, because I try to be fair with every kid. But, you know how kids are. They may think just because she's my daughter or he's my son that I'm taking preferences, but on the field I try to treat everyone the same. Their not family, just teammates."
"It was hard because he was always pressuring me when I didn't work hard. And when we train, I have to be a leader because I was in it [DC SCORES] for two years and he expects me to show other people what's the routine".
With all the difficulties that accompany mixing 'work with family', there are an array of positives which have benefited both as well.
For one, Nancy has accepted the leadership role in stride and has proven a valuable player for her Marie Reed side. At summer camp, she's even learned to shrug off the humiliation she sometimes feels and serve as a role-model for her younger, more eccentric brother Melvin and the rest of the campers.
Elver, on the other hand, has found a way to continue his passion, spend quality time with family, and use sport as a method for teaching his children. As he puts it "Soccer has everything. It will teach you how to be on a team, it will teach you discipline, and at the same time it will teach you how to resolve a problem on your own".
Despite the challenges of weaving family dynamics into a team, both Nancy and her step-father are learning from their experiences and most importantly of all, keeping their family close together. As Elver mentions "That's it, my kids. I have to be where my kids are".
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
When everything was falling apart for Ingrid Melendez, she turned to her escape -- soccer.
It was Ingrid’s 12th grade year at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, and she was overwhelmed.
Taking all AP classes was hard enough. Throw in a daily commute from east of the Anacostia River that meant waking up at 6am daily; afternoon soccer practices followed by five-hour shifts at Cactus Cantina in Tenleytown (the opposite corner of the city from her home); and no computer at home to finish papers on, and life was exhausting.
That was before she suddenly lost her uncle -- the fourth person in Ingrid’s extended family who died during high school.
“I really had so much on my plate,” Ingrid recalled recently, “but my uncle … that was like shock. I was just like, ‘This cannot be happening.’ I was just in denial about things. I even slacked off in school because it hit me -- this is not a dream, I have to wake up. It was hard going to school because I had to put all my feelings aside and focus on my schoolwork.”
All of the above would be a load to handle for anyone, but add it to the pressure Ingrid felt trying to become the first from her family to go to college and she could have been excused for slipping.
Thanks in large part to soccer, she didn’t. This fall, Ingrid will indeed be the first member from her family to continue her education past high school when she enrolls at Trinity Washington University. She will study forensics, pursuing a career that hits close to home for her.
“I couldn’t imagine not knowing who killed my loved one,” Ingrid said. “I want to bring justice to families that have no answers, trying to get DC as safe as possible.”
Ingrid will also try out for the soccer team at Trinity this August. It’s hard to imagine the game not being a part of her life.
When life was the most chaotic during 12th grade, Ingrid had three consistent positives in her life -- supportive family, a coach who wouldn’t let her walk away, and the game she could always escape to.
Growing up with two older brothers -- and, much later, a younger brother -- and a dad who coached soccer, Ingrid was constantly around the game. She tagged along with her father to weekly El Salvadorean league games at Cardozo High School. She was envious of her brother Christian, three years older than her, coming home from DC SCORES games at Tubman Elementary School.
She waited impatiently until 3rd grade, when she could join the DC SCORES team at Tubman. And once she put on her first soccer uniform, it didn’t take long for Ingrid to feel a part of a second family.
“Once you’re on a team, I feel like they’re welcoming you into a family,” Ingrid said. “They’re not friends but they’re somebody you can rely on both soccer-related and otherwise.”
|Ingrid with her soccer coach and mentor, Asa Davis.|
Asa first met Ingrid when she was a 9-year-old at DC SCORES summer camp. Now, for the past two years, he has coached a girls team of program alumnae including Ingrid. During the toughest of times -- feeling depressed, sleep-deprived, and with her dreams waning -- Ingrid leaned on the support of her coach.
“The harder he pushed us, it motivated me,” Ingrid said. “(I’d think), ‘I’m doing this for my uncle. I’m not doing this for me.’ He’d be like, ‘Don’t stop, you can do it. I’ll be here to push you. We all are here and you’re not by yourself.’”
Those soccer practices are where Ingrid found the resolve to stay on top of her AP courses -- English, followed by Spanish, then Biology, and finally Probability & Statistics -- and to keep college in the equation by passing the difficult Capstone 12 class that was required for graduation.
With no computer at home, Ingrid visited public libraries to finish her homework. Sometimes, she’d complete work on her phone and then print it out at school the next day.
“It was overwhelming, but I got it done,” she said.
“Soccer got me focused. It was my distraction from everything around me. When I was having a bad day, I was looking forward to passing or touching a ball.”
Getting to do so often with her best friends made it all the more cathartic.
|Ingrid, left, with members of the DC SCORES Lincoln girls soccer team where she met her best friends.|
And she wanted to be on the DC SCORES team there.
Lincoln is where Ingrid found her soccer community. She met Sandra, Leila, Jennifer and Anely, and they played together at Lincoln and then Bell for seven years. In August, Ingrid will be joined by Sandra, Jennifer and Anely at Trinity; Leila is heading to UVA.
“Each one of us, some of us are stronger in one aspect but weaker in another,” Ingrid said. “And when you combine us, we actually have a working team. We know what we’re doing.
“There’s always arguments and stuff, but at the end of the day we always manage to put everything aside and just focus on our game.”
There will be many more to come.
|Ingrid has mentored kids for the last|
four years as an SYEP counselor.
That’s why she’s back at DC SCORES’ Marie Reed Arts & Soccer Camp for a fourth consecutive year as a Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) counselor. She wants to impart the many lessons she’s learned along her journey onto the third- and fourth-graders she interacts with daily.
An example -- don’t let being a girl and societal norms hinder you from becoming an all-star soccer player. Ingrid thinks back to what her father always told her -- “If you like (soccer) then go ahead; I’ll be your backbone. I’ll support you.” -- and to the lessons Asa included in practices such as trying different positions and facing new chapters.
She passes along everything she’s gained to young girls playing soccer for the first time.
“I always tell them it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl,” Ingrid said. “A girl can do anything a guy can do.”
Or more. This summer, Ingrid is also getting a bit more rest as she prepares for her next chapter as the first of her siblings to go to college. Her younger brother Dennis, 3, -- a big reason why Ingrid wanted to stay local -- could be next.
“Here is the moment,” Ingrid said at camp last week, a smile plastered on her face. “All of them sleepless nights and everything that’s happened to me throughout these four years.
“Here it is -- I’m going to college.”