The game was 10 minutes over, the field cleared, but the 15-year-old kept beaming as he described his role on DC SCORES’ U-16 soccer team.
“Just the leader and the one motivating everyone,” Ordonez said. “Sometimes we might be down and you need someone to keep pushing your team, someone that has to be playing. I like doing that.”
Ordonez described for a non-Spanish speaker what he had been barking out from his defensive position late in the game as his team clung to a one-goal lead.
“I was telling them to work harder, don’t get tired, it’s the end of the game. We’re still winning, keep it up. And as you saw, we came through.”
That’s right. Despite giving up a goal in the opening 3 minutes, the team of 17 players from six to seven different schools and spanning ages 10-15 had fought back for a 3-2 victory.
The win capped off a successful fall season that even the coaches didn’t know would happen months before.
The idea was two years in the making.
Since 1994, DC SCORES has provided the opportunity for elementary and middle school students in the District to play on a soccer team. However, kids often run into a roadblock upon entering high school.
Some DC high schools don’t even have soccer teams, especially for girls. This was detailed in an Aug. 1 Washington Post article. But even schools that do have soccer teams don’t have junior varsity and freshmen teams (Wilson High School is the only exception). This leaves boys like Ordonez, who attends Bell High School, competing with 60 classmates for 15 to 20 roster spots.
This past summer, there was an opportunity to enter a team into a month-long tournament organized by the DC Office on Latino Affairs held at Bell’s field in Columbia Heights. Lewis and Landau jumped at the chance to test out the model of bringing kids together from different schools to form a team. The team played three round-robin games and a playoff game, and many of the same kids showed each time. It didn’t matter to them that they were playing with strangers. Or that they didn’t get their T-shirts until the day of the game. They relished the chance to play on an organized team.
“We did this as a trial run,” Landau said. “I don’t know how sure a lot of them were because we had no assurance about anything panning out. But it did.”
Fast forward to the second Saturday of November. It was a beautiful, sun-soaked afternoon in the Glover Park neighborhood of the District, and 17 kids of various sizes were warming up in their blue DC uniforms.
There was Ordonez, the leader of the group. And wait, emerging from the trees around her came Ariana Reyes, the only girl on the team — and she’s 10! But none of the boys complained when she entered the game. That was the case all season.
|Larry Drummer controls the ball for the U-16 team.|
The logistics weren’t easy. The team met each Saturday in Columbia Heights where most of the kids live, and the commute on public transportation to game sites throughout DC often took over an hour. Kids were making a large commitment by showing up every weekend.
But they did. And got better. And got to know each other.
Alfredo Coreas Jr., 15, said that before joining the team he didn’t like to share the ball when on the soccer field. Now?
“I pass the ball more. Now I run, give passes, start plays.”
Late in the second half of that 3-2 season-capping victory, Coreas fed a teammate a perfect pass for a shot on goal. When the goalie made a great save, Coreas gathered the rebound and pounded home the clinching goal.
“In this team for you to play, you’ve got to work as a team,” he said.
It’s an amazing feat, really. Tenth-graders share the ball with sixth-graders, who give it back. Ordonez yells out enthusiasm from the back line, and his teammates listen.
According to Landau and Lewis, team members made large strides individually and collectively during the eight-game season.
“We have a great group of kids,” Lewis said. “Those kids like each other, like being around each other, and like playing for each other.”
Added Landau: “Whether it’s a sport or life, you can sit and complain or continue to make the best of it. Some of these kids don’t go to school together. Nobody ever complained about another. It was all encouraging and working together and having fun together.
“When we first started the team, maybe people weren’t as excited as they are now. But now they are really proud and wear their jerseys with pride. We started something from scratch to where we are now.”
|The DC SCORES U-16 team.|
Now Ordonez might have the opportunity to play high school soccer as a junior next year.
That is Lewis’ and Landau’s hope — that through playing on the DC SCORES U-16 team, kids will not only improve and get the chance to be on a team but will also get noticed by high schools where they can play.
“The goal is to not only get them to play high school soccer, but also to get them into college,” Lewis said. “I see the potential from early on. One thing I feel like I’m fairly good at is after the first 5 minutes of watching a player, I know what they are good at and need to work on.”
But the ultimate goals don’t distract from the present objective, and that’s being leaders for the kids — a role both coaches relish.
It’s always a challenge to find field space for practicing. During some weeks, there are two practices. Others, there are none. But whenever Landau or Lewis asks on the team’s Facebook page — the main form of communicating with the youth — whether anyone wants to practice on a Sunday morning or Friday afternoon, the response is always overwhelmingly affirmative.
Larry Drummer, 13, is an eighth-grader who also plays on Lewis’ DC SCORES Lincoln team. But he enjoys the challenge of the competition the U-16 team faces as he gets ready for high school.
“It’s pretty good and prepares me to play better in the future with bigger, tougher guys,” he said.
Guys like Ordonez.