DC SCORES is Teamwork. On Giving Tuesday, Give the Gift of Teamwork to a DC kid in need.
Written by Jake Lloyd
It’s an unseasonably warm early November afternoon in NW DC, the light fading quickly from the sky as Cesar Chavez Public Charter Middle School—Prep takes on Truesdell Education Campus.
Omar M. places the ball in the NW corner of the dimly lit field, counts out his steps, then strides into a corner kick. The ball is a great one, making a beeline for the forehead of teammate Emanuel “Manny” L. as if it’s a heat-seeking missile.
The next thing you know, the orb is in the net and the Chavez sideline is erupting in euphoria. On the field, Omar and Manny embrace. It’s 1-0 the boys in green, and every player shares an equal level of joy.
Chavez goes on to win the game 2-0, but afterward coach Mateo Samper drives home what made him the most exuberant.
“First of all, that is the best game you’ve ever played,” Mateo begins. “You should be very proud of yourselves. I’m very proud of you. The difference — it wasn’t just execution, it was how you communicated, it was how we worked together.
“Everything tonight was well-oiled, everything fell into place, everything fell into sync because you guys were talking. We trusted each other.”
It’s a value often taken for granted in team sports. However, the core DC SCORES value — along with Commitment and Leadership — is not easily instilled and followed. And it doesn’t often serve as an identity for a team the way it now does at Chavez Prep.
Picture this: It’s early September at the charter school that sits on the edge of the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods. The heavily populated Latino areas of DC are full of soccer-loving kids who dream of being the next Messi, a superstar.
Kids pour into Chavez Prep from a plethora of elementary schools, many of which have DC SCORES programming. There’s Omar and Juliana M. from Thomson; Jonathan G. from Reed; Ariana from H.D. Cooke; others from Seaton and Tubman. They’ve played soccer against one another, but never on the same team.
The DC SCORES season doesn’t get off to the best of starts.
“I would say our first game was a mess,” says girls coach Maureen “Mo” Mitchell. “It was like a bunch of individuals trying to play. And all the talent in the world can only get you so far.”
The biggest talent on the girls team is Ariana, a deceptively fast dribbling whiz with a wicked-hard shot that has even the other team crooning. Ariana is also on a travel team and will be playing competitively for a long time.
But on this afternoon, she struggles to create any offense as Truesdell throws two, three and even four players at her. Mo calls Ariana off the field — a rare, gutsy move by a coach trailing 1-0 late in the second half. Less than a minute later, Chavez Prep scores. Ariana joins her teammates in cheering wildly.
It’s inspiring to Mo how far her team has come in just two months.
“They’re there for each other and they’re there for me,” she says with a smile. “They’re constantly positive. They know that teamwork and citizenship is important.”
And their teamwork translates to much more than soccer.
Fidi didn’t know a lick of English.
Classes were intimidating, but even more so was trying to make friends and fit in — until he joined DC SCORES. At first, teammates would translate for Fidi what coaches were instructing them to do. Then the coach at the time began speaking in Spanish too.
It didn’t take long for Fidi to feel comfortable and part of a team, a community. When the older kids who supported him moved on to high school, he assumed a leadership position and has made new friends. The eighth-grader also speaks English with a confidence almost similar to that which he exudes on the field.
“My favorite part of being in DC SCORES is having more friends, playing with them, talking with them, working with them,” Fidi says.
“Even if we win or we lose, we always laugh.”
Teammates hold each other accountable. No one wants to be ineligible for the next game because of a failed class or truancy. This is a far cry from the early season practice when only three girls showed up.
Now, everyone does better in school because of DC SCORES. This warms the heart of Mo — a ninth-grade earth science teacher at Chavez — and makes her look forward to having her poet-athletes in class at the high school level.
“If one girl is not being her best self around the hallways in school, her teammates will remind her, ‘Hey, you’ll get detention,’” Mo says.
“It was originally like they just wanted to play soccer, but now it’s like they know that they are my soccer girls and they want to represent themselves the best. It’s pretty cool to feel like you’re inspiring them.”
When Juliana was struggling and behind in her classes, teammates encouraged her and Mo made sure she received extra help. When Nancy C. was having behavior issues because, Mo says, she wasn’t challenged enough, the team encouraged her to take a leadership position that she’s embraced.
“On the field I call her the conductor,” Mo says. “She realized she had this potential.”
Perhaps no one sums up the feeling Chavez’s girls have better than Ariana, who can’t attend practices because of travel team obligations but spends as much time as possible with her DC SCORES friends both in programming and playing pick-up games.
“I feel like we’ve become a family instead of just teammates,” Ariana says.
“Where do you go to school!?” Mateo yells.
“Who do you play for!”
“Chavez on 3. 1 .. 2 .. 3!”
Mateo breaks the huddle and the kids scatter toward the bus, ready for a joyous post-victory ride. It’s easy to be happy and united after a big win, but this is a team that won’t crumble even after losses. The bonds are too strong, even if they’re in their infancy.
This is best exemplified by Omar.
“We have a friendship where it doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” he says. “We’re gonna talk about it, fix what we did wrong, and then do it even better.”
Teamwork is an overused word, but it’s hard to think of a better term to describe the Cesar Chavez teams and community. It’s a value — part of DC SCORES’ “TLC” — that has helped Fidi find friends and his voice in a new country; that has helped Ariana, Juliana, Nancy and others in school; that has led to Mo feeling better about teaching and “helps to build relationships;” and that has even brought DC SCORES alumni now in 9th grade like Nohemy and Emily back to occasionally help with the team and provide support.
“It’s like an ultimate team,” Omar says, reflecting on his and others’ journeys to Chavez. “Players come from different teams and commit to one.”