When the Garfield Elementary School bus pulled up to Kelly Miller Middle School last Saturday morning, its occupants weren’t exactly itching to get off it.
“They were more worried about how cold it was outside than the teams (they’d be playing),” said Garfield soccer coach Terrell Clifford. “They were like, ‘Do we have to go out here? It’s freezing!’”
It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start to the first Fall Frenzy for DC SCORES’ newest elementary school. However, some five hours later, Clifford could laugh about it. By then, his small, tight-knit group of poet-athletes was mostly smiles, as the kids thoroughly enjoyed the large program event.
“They’re pretty much in awe of what’s going on,” Clifford said as he watched Garfield play its last of four games, “but they’re enjoying every second of it.”
Over 800 poet-athletes participated in the 14th annual celebration of the fall season, which drew more than 1,000 people total to Kelly Miller in Ward 7, including parents; community members; a large number of volunteers, many of them program alumni; program partners; and others.
The Fall Frenzy was funded by DC Stoddert Soccer and the District’s Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition to cross-city soccer games played on nine adjacent fields, poet-athletes enjoyed facepainting; writing Haikus at the 826 DC table; running relay races with volunteers from Rotaract; creating arts and crafts at the Starbucks table; and testing their kicking accuracy and working on headers with Penya Barcelonista, DC’s official FC Barcelonia fan club. Kids also took advantage of free water bottles provided by Modell's Sporting Goods and danced -- sometimes while on the soccer field -- to the music played by DJ RBI.
At the beginning of the morning, DC SCORES Athletic Director Kenny Owens brought all the teams together to show off their school pride and kick off the day. Then, with the blaring of the mega horn, teams were dispersed, and within a minute, Kelly Miller’s athletic fields and parking lot were filled with 27 different colors.
The enormity of the event could be a little intimidating for first-time participants, especially with so many bigger kids on many of the elementary school teams. When Clifford’s group of mostly third-graders prepared to play Perry Street Prep -- which featured several fifth-graders -- the poet-athletes couldn’t believe the size of their opponents.
“Man, they’re bigger than us, I’m gonna run through their legs!” one third-grader said.
“They too big! They giants,” another poet-athlete lamented.
“Coach, tell us something!” said a third.
After a brief huddle, though, Garfield’s players relaxed with a chant of “1 … 2 … 3 .. Garfield!” and played a fearless game against the much bigger kids.
And that is all Clifford can ask of his poet-athletes at this point in the season. Starting a team at a school where most students have never touched a soccer ball or heard of a throw-in isn’t easy, Clifford knows, and he’s taking things one day at a time.
“It’s definitely a process and I think we’re getting there slowly but surely,” Clifford said. “I think the success for our team is just working together for a whole match or a half. If we’re fortunate enough to score a goal, that’s a big gain.
“A little icing on the cake.”
A few minutes later, Clifford was enjoying that icing and let out a “Yeahhhhh!!!” after his team put together a scoring play. For all its struggles against bigger, more experienced teams for most of the day, one goal more than made Garfield’s trip to Kelly Miller well worth it.
At Garfield’s first home game a few weeks back, the team received incredible support, as Clifford estimated that 70 to 80 people -- including the school band, parents and faculty members -- came out to cheer on the team. A smaller group of supporters was on hand Saturday, encouraging and giving courage to the team as it navigated uncharted territory.
And by the end of the day, no poet-athletes were complaining anymore. Except about the fact that the day, and the games, was over.
“Everyone has progressed in the same pattern,” Clifford said. “It’s a team effort for the most part.
“They’ve got some fire under them.”