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Monday, June 4, 2012

Jamboree! 2012: A day spent with the Moten Panthers

When the bus pulled curbside and the expansive fields came into view, the Moten Panthers’ eyes got real big.

So this was what a college campus looked like!

From the moment I met the 10 students outside of their elementary school, their excitement about the day’s forthcoming events was evident. When I told them the DC SCORES Jamboree! was taking place at a college, it reached another level.

Then we arrived at Trinity Washington University on Michigan Avenue, where hundreds of kids were spilling out of buses and walking toward a large grassy area which would host dozens of soccer games and other activities.

The Panthers and over 800 other DC SCORES students took part in the 17th annual Jamboree! Saturday, the culminating event of the spring season. They were joined by hundreds of parents, community members, volunteers and a host of partners who helped make the action-packed day possible.

I had the task of filling in as Moten’s coach for the day, but, really, it was an easy job — how could they not have fun playing soccer, running relay races and getting free stuff all while jamming out to DJ RBI’s beats?

We began the day by watching the City Cup elementary school championship games, as the Bancroft boys defeated Howard Road Academy and the Burrville girls won their second straight Cup over Brightwood. It was a great opportunity to give pointers to the excited Panthers, who ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ after a series of incredible goals by Bancroft.

On the upper fields, Paul Public Charter School won both the boys and girls middle school tournaments, with the MacFarland Middle School boys posting a very impressive second-place showing out of 14 teams.

Meanwhile, the Panthers were getting antsy — how could I blame them? — so we waltzed down the grassy hill to the activities area, where several partners of DC SCORES were stationed.

Our first stop was at The Century Council table, where the students picked up some sporty green or blue sunglasses and shoulder bags that would prove to be incredibly useful throughout the day. Third-grader Cayla sweet-talked her way into a pair of green AND blue sunglasses.

After stuffing books from the First Book table into their bags, the students stopped by the American Diabetes Association station and picked up pedometers that quickly had them running in stance — accumulating those steps. 100 … 200 … 500! How cool it was to move!

We then moved to the 826 DC table, where the students showed off their self-expression. Their task was to create a group story in a minute drawing pictures with crayons. As the seconds ticked off and the paper was passed along, the excitement level rose. But the group of girls beat the buzzer in illustrating a story about an ice cream cone party.

Just minutes later, the ice cream theme continued as the students impressed the Rotaract Metro DC volunteers during the “ice cream cone” relay — racing back and forth with a soccer ball balanced atop an orange cone, no hands allowed.

After three races, it was time to switch stations — but not stop racing. We joined an enthusiastic, fun-loving group from Volkswagen Group of America for a team hula hoop relay. The 10 Panthers made a circle, held hands and were tasked with wiggling a hoop around the circle without breaking their bond.

First try: 39 seconds.

Second try: 34 seconds.

They couldn’t quite get down to half a minute, but it was still the perfect activity to create a unity for the soccer games that loomed. After one more relay — this one the summer-camp favorite “sponge relay” that ended with the students chasing down the volunteer from The Kiwanis Club of Washington, DC, and dumping on him the bowl of water — we headed back up the hill.

(We didn’t quite have the time to stop by the Penya Barcelonista shooting station, where Penya volunteers and special guest Britt McHenry of ABC-7 were giving pointers as students practiced shooting soccer balls into a target net, or the Starbucks arts and crafts booth.)

It was game time.

As part of the Jamboree!, each elementary and middle school team plays a handful of games against schools from across the city. My assistant coach Avery and I didn’t know what to expect from the 

Panthers, having not coached them before, but by the end of the afternoon we knew they had made great strides during the season and day.

This was only the second year of DC SCORES programming for Moten, a school in Ward 8 where kids traditionally would never play soccer. But I could immediately tell that several members of our group had picked up the game quickly.

Against Garfield, Caleb established himself as an offensive threat, dribbling the ball down the field and finding the net. Jaquel, meanwhile, made a series of saves in net during the 3-0 victory.

Our game against Brightwood was a learning experience, as they are one of the biggest, most talented teams in DC SCORES’ elementary school league. After a few goals, the frustration was mounting, and I took Caleb aside after he yelled at a pair of teammates.

“I need you to be a leader,” I said to him. “Encourage your teammates. Show them the way.”

An hour later, after a delicious and healthy wraps lunch provided by DC Central Kitchen, we completed the action-packed day with a game against Arts and Technology Academy. Immediate signs of progress were evident.

Caleb shared the ball on several occasions, passing to Jaquel for a pair goals. Little Darryl, by far the smallest kid of the bunch, moved the ball up the field with no fear despite going against kids twice his size. Cedric, who had asked to play goalie during the Brightwood game, confidently protected the net. And while they weren’t used to playing with boys, the girls on the field — Cayla, Deasija, NaLiyah and Jamaree — attacked the ball with reckless abandon and improved at working together with the boys, and vice versa.

With each goal her team scored, Nyjha, who had bruised her knee against Brightwood and had a bag of ice on it, smiled a little bit more and forgot the pain, instead enjoying her team’s success.

Then, just like that, we were back on the bus, heading back to school. The day had flown by, a blurr of balls kicked, pictures drawn, the team dancing the cha-cha-cha, and many smiles.

Time had gone so fast, we never made it to the popular facepainting booth, but there wasn’t too much complaining. Or maybe everyone was just too tired for that.

Five minutes into the ride, I glanced next to me, and Darryl was passed out, slumped against the window (I would have to shake him when we arrived back at school). Minutes later, Cayla was in a similar position in the seat in front of me.

I asked Deasija what her favorite part of the day was.

“The sponge race,” she replied without hesitating.

A few others echoed her sentiment. Clearly, the Jamboree! had offered so much more than just soccer, which had been the only topic of discussion during the morning bus ride.

“I’m gonna sleep when I get home,” Cedric said as we neared the school. “Me too,” I agreed.

The Jamboree! had tired us all out, the way any action-packed event should. And the Panthers’ pedometers could prove just how active we had all been.

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