Will Marshall is one of seven AmeriCorps members serving DC SCORES this school year as a coach. Will helps coach the Lincoln Middle School soccer team, and in celebration of AmeriCorps Week, he wrote this story about one of the students on the team.
Note: The student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
I met Carlos on a breezy Thursday afternoon last fall. He came to the room with his fingernails caked in dirt, food stains strewn across his green Mexico jersey and his head topped with a wild nest of hair.
Carlos joined the group late because he had been suspended from school for fighting. The boys warned me, “He’s going to cause trouble coach.” And that part was true; Carlos did cause trouble. When a boy stood on his chair — a practice we started early on — to read his journal entry about the sights, smells and sounds of his community, Carlos laughed at him and called him names.
I wasn’t happy. The team was not happy. We had worked hard to establish a community of respect; a safe environment to express oneself.
I brought Carlos into the hall and conveyed my expectations of him. He gave a wan smile. He wasn’t taking this talk very seriously.
Later that day at soccer practice, Carlos butted in line. A fight broke out. Carlos punched one of the boys in the face. I lost my temper. I asked Carlos to go home and never come back. Carlos had met my expectations of him and I was all too ready to part ways.
I knew what to expect from Carlos, but what I didn’t know was that Carlos was sleeping on the couch at his aunt’s house. His home life was anything but stable. Carlos needed structure. He needed someone to care about him. He didn’t need another adult turning him away.
I asked the boys to talk to him. A week later Carlos came back. He approached me in the cafeteria before poetry. He said, “Coach, that was my bad, I wrote you this.” He pulled a crinkled piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a brave act by Carlos to express himself on paper in his second language.
It read, “Sorry I cussed yeah Coach. Can I come back please?”
Carlos played for us the rest of the season. I won’t lie, it wasn’t always easy. We had our setbacks. But by the end of the season Carlos was our starting left winger.
During our last regular-season match, a student from the opposing school pushed Carlos to the ground in a dust up for the ball. I cringed, anticipating retaliation from Carlos and my team.
But nothing happened.
Carlos simply got up, wiped the mud off his jersey and ran down the field to follow the ball. We won the game nine goals to one. The boys were ecstatic; they had just made the playoffs.
As the team gathered round, their hoots and hollers echoing off the surrounding federal buildings, I asked the boys to show some class. Carlos spoke out, saying, “Hey, let’s give a cheer for the other team.”
Carlos won the man of the match that game, his first. He set up three goals with beautiful crosses from the left wing, but that is not why he won the award. I gave Carlos the award because that day he saw the game for what it is — a brotherhood and something to be treasured.