SOCCER FOR SUCCESS KICK OFF Soccer took center stage in the Los Angeles area recently: At Carson’s Home Depot Center, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup, while in South Los Angeles officials from a number of local and national organizations gathered at Challengers Boys & Girls Club to celebrate the expansion of Soccer for Success (SFS)—an after-school sports program that will ultimately serve upwards of 1,500 Southern California youths.Charisse Bremond-Weaver of the Brotherhood Crusade, Ed Foster-Simeon of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Robert K. Ross, M.D. of the California Endowment, and Shellie Y. Pfohl of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, each spoke to the value of bringing SFS to neighborhoods across America, such as L.A., where there’s “engagement of the whole community, and children have a safe place to go,” said Foster-Simeon, who traveled from Washington, D.C. for the site visit and reception. Also present for event, which took place Saturday, Nov. 19, were Cory Blackwell and Sam Williams of the National Basketball Retired Players Association; Reggie Berry of the National Football League Former Players Association, and Ron Brown, a former NFL player and Olympic gold medalist.Currently SFS serves 7,000 children nationwide, but that number is expected to climb to roughly 25,000 in the next three years. In L.A., where Brotherhood Crusade and a number of partners administer the after-school program, students at John Muir Middle School; Budlong Avenue Elementary School; Danny Bakewell Primary Center (which also services Manchester Avenue Elementary School); and Menlo Avenue Elementary School are now learning soccer. Over the next three months, SFS will expand to 52nd Street Elementary School; Horace Mann Junior High; Fremont High School; Challenger’s Boys and Girls Club; and Weingart YMCA. The EXPO Center already has an established site.George Weaver of the Brotherhood Crusade, recently visited some of the local programs, where he spoke with a male teenager who recently lost 16 pounds playing soccer, while another girl reported losing 13 pounds. Getting children in better shape is a key goal, said Pfhol. “One of out of three kids is overweight, and in many of these demographics, it’s more like two out of three kids…We cannot lead, if we lead the world in chronic disease,” she warned. Pfhol works directly with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let’s Move! Initiative. In that vein, SFS, along with Books and Basketball, Pasadena Youth Sports League and Fit Wednesday, is part of Brotherhood Crusade’s anti-obesity programming. “President and Mrs. Obama care very much about the Soccer for Success program,” she told a room full of parents, supporters and SFS board members and partners at in a room at Challengers that was decorated with soccer banners, soccer balls and balloons.The program, was initially launched in L.A. last March, and is intended to improve not only the physical health of children, but also their mental, academic and emotional health. Kids can play free from worry of violence and gang influences, said Weaver, who also noted that SFS should bring families and communities closer as they rally around the young players. The program will not burden those who are struggling financially as all uniforms and equipment are provided gratis to participants during the eight-to-12 week sessions, which run year round. Nathan J. Sessoms, PhD, of the Brotherhood Crusade, asserts that one of the program’s strengths lies in its ability to use soccer as a mentoring vehicle. “As youths learn the sport, we ask them ‘How’s it going in school? Is everything okay with you?’ That way, we obtain information about their academic progress, as well as any social barriers they may be facing, such as bullying.”Sessoms also suggests the playing field allows soccer coaches to take advantage of teachable moments: “You learn that when you come to play soccer, you must be in uniform. Your jersey should be tucked-in and shorts worn at your waist, not falling off, just as when you go to work, you must wear a belt and you can’t have your pants falling off. You have to arrive on time for games, just as you have to arrive on time for work. And when things don’t go your way on the field, as is the case at work, you have to maintain your composure. You can’t just fly off the handle and curse somebody out.” In its SFS recruitment efforts, Brotherhood Crusade targets high-risk youths, females and participants with mild disabilities. There are no eligibility restrictions, and there is a no-cut policy. In addition to the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the California Endowment, partners include the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, EXPO Center, Weingart YMCA, the African American Unity Center, Los Angeles Unified School District, Local District #7, and the Brotherhood Crusade.Bremond-Weaver thanked supporters for coming from across town and across the country, and said, “We look forward to many great years of developing soccer in the inner city.” Osbaldo Jimenez, the principal of 52nd Street Elementary School, who has a program starting in early December, said he’s excited to see his students have an opportunity to learn a sport that he loves, and asked: “Where was this program when I was a kid?”
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