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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Inside DC SCORES Game Day: A guide for those on the sidelines

Rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets ball first.
Never been to a DC SCORES Game Day?

Well, you're missing out. And hopefully we'll see you soon (here's the remaining fall schedule!). But until then, we'll provide an inside look at how a typical Thursday or Friday afternoon looks like throughout the District for the 1,500 youth our program serves.

For the sake of personalizing, we'll use the Brightwood Education Campus vs. Wheatley Education Campus game from two weeks ago as an example.

(Times are approximate.)


3:40pm -- The referee, Justin, arrives. Since this is his first volunteer reffing experience, I hand him a bright-yellow volunteer T-shirt. This will be his refereeing uniform for other games he does throughout the season. We go over the basic elementary school rules (it's about teaching the youth as much as enforcing any rule). The Wheatley Whales and their coaches come out to the small field behind their school and start stretching.

3:55pm -- A yellow school bus arrives at Wheatley full of eager Brightwood youth read to play soccer. In order to get to Game Day on time, Brightwood had to get on the bus immediately after school. The drive from Ward 4 to Ward 6 was not short, especially in DC traffic. DC SCORES' biggest program expense is buses for game days and special events. Providing buses ensures that no student is left behind.

4:05pm -- I call for both teams (the girls and the boys) to come to the center of the field. Sportsmanship is a huge part of DC SCORES Game Day, and we emphasize this each week before the teams take the field. "You're playing for the name on the back of your jersey, Brightwood or Wheatley," I say to the 40-plus youth, "but also for the name on the front of your jersey, DC SCORES." I then ask students a series of questions ranging from "What do you do if you trip an opponent?" to "What do you do after the game?" It might be the first Thursday of the fall season, but hands shoot up and the students knock the questions out of the park. They remember. They've practiced good sportsmanship before.

Breakaway scoring chance for Brightwood!
4:19pm -- Justin blows his whistle. A player has incorrectly performed a throw-in, lifting their foot, a natural instinct. Justin takes the ball and mimics the correct form. He then hands the ball back to the child, who gets it right the second time.

4:46pm -- As I told everyone before the game, the girls for both teams assemble in line for the post-game handshake. It was, at times, a frustrating afternoon for the Wheatley girls, who were shut out. But they haven't forgotten about sportsmanship. Their coaches are a big help, encouraging the girls and telling them how hard they played. A supportive coach on the sideline is a vital part of a successful Game Day.

5:13pm -- I gaze across the field to the spectators' sideline and begin counting. A minute later, my finger has tallied close to 100 people at Game Day not including the players and coaches. These soccer games represent community events. A large group of younger youth from Wheatley sit in the grass, watching, absorbing. In a year, or two, they'll get to don the purple uniforms. Dozens of parents line the sloping hill. For many of them, this is their child's favorite afternoon of the week -- and theirs too. Some watch quietly, others cheer loudly. School administrators and teachers are spotted, too.

5:38pm -- The Brightwood sideline erupts after another brilliant goal. Sure, their school is on the other side of the congested city, but that didn't keep a handful of parents from joining the coaches and youth for the trip to Northeast. Winning or losing is secondary for DC SCORES youth, many of whom are being introduced to soccer for the first time. But each success, each goal, each great pass is celebrated with a gusto and explosion of energy on the sideline. It's clear how much the school's soccer team means to its community.

5:49pm -- And that's a wrap. The final whistle has blown on the boys contest (each game is made up of two 20-minute halves). The players high five each other. Then, in an unplanned, unexpected show of pride and sportsmanship, the Brightwood parents form a tunnel with their arms and players from both teams race through to put an exclamation point on Game Day.

Brightwood heads for its waiting bus. Wheatley coaches and players begin to pick up their water bottles and break down the goals. Yes, Game Day is over, but it's just seven more days until the next one. And with a week of practice in between, the Whales will be even more prepared and pumped up to take the field in their custom T-shirts, shorts, socks and shinguards.

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