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Thursday, December 11, 2014

DC SCORES coach's journal, Part VI: The night of the Poetry Slam!

Lincoln receives its trophy for finishing in 2nd place at the Westside Poetry Slam!.

Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, two months ago from Albany, NY, to begin working at DC SCORES as a Coach Across America AmeriCorps volunteer. Zach has a passion for working with youth, and as part of his work with DC SCORES is coaching poetry and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the season, Zach will share his experience as one of DC SCORES’ 190 coaches who run the program at our 47 schools. Zach will provide insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach. 


Written by Zachary Gomes 
Soccer Coordinator 

I did it again.

I showed up at Lincoln full of energy on Dec. 3 ready for the Poetry Slam!. I met the kids in the auditorium at 3:15 p.m. and immediately started urging them onto the stage. I had no patience. The Slam! was going to begin in less than two hours! In two hours, kids from 20 schools would be in the Lincoln auditorium and we had a limited amount of time to perfect our poems and performance.

“Lets go guys! Get on the stage! We don’t have much time! Soon this auditorium is going to be filled with hundreds of people!”

I had done it again.

I had let my nerves get the best of me and I had projected my own anxieties onto the kids. My urgency had freaked them out.

After our first run-through of the poems (which didn’t go so great), I decided to give the kids a pep-talk behind stage. I walked over to the girls team first and started what I thought was an encouraging speech. Madaline G., an eighth-grader, stopped me in the middle of my “awesome” pump-up speech and reminded me, “Coach, you know when you act like this you just make us more nervous, right?”

And just like that, I knew it was time to slow down. I brought the girls and boys teams together and took a knee. I told them I was sorry for my crazy urgent attitude and asked them to take three deep breathes with me. I had been going about it all wrong and once again the kids had put me in check.

I wish I could say everything went smoothly after this calming moment, but there was still more to come.


After speaking with the team, I decided we no longer needed to practice on stage. We all went to the cafeteria to eat some pizza and relax before the show. If the kids wanted to practice again, I would let them. However, I was done asking them. They were ready.

At 3:55, I began getting nervous (again). The pizza I had ordered was supposed to have arrived 10 minutes ago, the show was starting in an hour and the kids were getting restless.

By 4:10, after several phone calls with the pizza shop, I came to the realization the pizza wasn’t coming. The kids had figured this out also.

“Oh no. This is not good.” That’s what was going through my head. The Poetry Slam! is three hours long and if I don’t feed these kids I’m done for!

At 4:25, I decided to run out of the school and find food. The Poetry Slam! was 30 minutes away, and I was running around Columbia Heights in dress shoes with a purple polka-dot bow tie on trying to find enough food to feed almost 40 kids!

With some luck and help from Pete’s New Haven Pizza, I got back to the school in 15 minutes with enough artisan pizza and French fries to make the team happy.

They rehearsed one more time before we ate and although there were some small arguments between the girls and boys teams over who performed their poems better and slight confusion concerning our choreography, it went very well.

It was time to perform under the bright lights.


Right before Lincoln's turn to perform, as we all waited on the side of the stage, I saw their faces change. I realized they were ready and that if they had not realized what the Poetry Slam! meant before, they understood now.

The same excitement and nerves I saw in kids' eyes right before a soccer game were present again as they waited to take the stage. I don’t know why I ever worried for them in the first place.

They preformed magnificently, and just like that it was done.

Lincoln has always been a powerhouse when it comes to soccer, but poetry had historically been a struggle. With help from the boys soccer coach, Popsie Lewis, and the help of volunteer poetry coach Morgan Kaufmann and the wonderful Ana G. (a DC SCORES alumna I mentioned in Blog IV) we had been able to create a team culture that understood the importance of both the soccer and poetry aspects of DC SCORES and had created a space that allowed for the kids to better recognize what great poets they were.

The first award handed out at the completion of the night is called the Middle School Shine Award. It is awarded to the student who delivers their solo poem with poise, projection and confidence.

Madalin G., the girl who reminded me that my actions were just making the team more nervous, was our solo poet. She is quite a remarkable writer. Due to a scheduling conflict, she had been unable to make our first four poetry sessions. When she showed up to her first class, she handed me a bunch of pieces of loose leaf paper with writing all over them. She told me, “Sorry for missing class. I wrote a bunch of poems though. Here.”

When I asked her to perform a solo poem, she jumped at the opportunity. She worked hard and created a little masterpiece called “Steps.”

My journey begins with a single step
Can you believe that one dream can change your reality
And one lyric can change your meaning of life
As Willy Wonka once said, we are the writers of music and the dreamers of dreams
One dream a million of possibilities
One life a million dreams
My steps are my memories and my memories are my history
From baby steps to
Becoming Bigfoot
From one inch
To a mile
From a water bottle
To an entire ocean
What are you a part of
What do you help make?

I love this poem. “From baby steps to becoming Bigfoot.” Madelin’s poem beautifully exemplifies how we are all a part of something bigger. We are individuals who are part of a team, who live within a community, which is a part of a country, that is a part of the world.

Madelin won the shine award and I couldn’t have been more proud.

It didn't end there. Lincoln got second place overall in the middle schools category!

They had done it. I think they had exceeded even their own expectations.

The kids were proud of themselves. I told them all season that we could do it. I told them all season “I know we can win the Poetry Slam!”

We didn’t win first place, but all the kids left knowing they could have and they were all proud of their performance. That’s as good as it gets.

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