Congratulations to the graduates of the First Summer Cadet Academy class! See photos of the graduation Our new cadets will begin their station internships after Labor Day. Thanks to all the officers at SFPD who made this such a great program for our cadets.
Above (L to R): Cameron and Carlos, players on the Starr King Gophers United, keep the ball away from Eleanor, a player on the Starr King Storm.
On a pockmarked soccer field in Cole Valley, the Gophers United and the Storm are waging a momentous battle.
A cluster of 7- and 8-year-old girls and boys scramble after the ball. Some wear black PAL jerseys, others are decked out in orange. Nearby, two dozen attentive parents watch from the sidelines, cheering and clapping at each tiny triumph — a robust kick, a fast tackle, a clever steal, a daring breakaway.
On the other side of the field, several dads pace up and down, their eyes riveted to the action. They are the coaches — parents who give a few hours a week to shepherd the kids to success on the soccer field, which at this tender age means nothing more than loving the game.
“Good job, Sienna!” one coach calls out. “David, go get it! Mackenzie, go get it! Get in there. Kick it out.”
In a sudden burst of energy, David and Mackenzie race toward the ball.
“Kick it out! Kick it out!”
Mackenzie is inches from the ball when a black jersey pushes in front of her and boots the ball toward the goal. Amid a mad scramble, the goalkeeper lunges and snatches the ball off the ground. Saved!
So goes the sport of PAL youth soccer. Moments later, Mackenzie is beckoned from the field, and the coach gently pushes another kid onto the field.
The coach in this case is Mackenzie’s father, Terrence Jones, head coach of the orange team, the Starr King Gophers United. The rival head coach is his close friend Marcelo Rodriguez, who coaches the black team, the Starr King Storm. Marcelo’s daughter Elena plays on the Storm.
Terrence Jones, coach of the SK Gophers United
and the dad who started it all at Starr King Elementary.
Coach Marcelo Rodriguez with SK Storm kids (L to R):
Elena, Ben, Skylar, Maxine, Henry and Cameron.
The Gophers and the Storm chase after the ball.
The two men each played soccer as kids (“Of course! I’m from Argentina,” says Rodriguez) but their adventures in youth coaching are new, prompted by what they saw as a need for organized physical activity at their daughters’ school.
Mackenzie and Elena are good friends and soon-to-be third-graders at the Starr King Elementary School. Located in Potrero Hill, Starr King is a public school that caters to four groups of kids: general education kids, many of whom are from low-income households; Mandarin-immersion kids; Spanish bilingual kids; and special-education kids.
As rich as it is in educational mission, Starr King lacks in one crucial area — physical education. It has no PE program. To compensate, Jones set out to find something that would fill that need, not just for Elena, but for every second-grader.
“We just needed something,” Jones says. “I grew up playing soccer. You don’t need much — just a ball and a field.”
Jones recruited Rodriguez, and the two men turned to PAL for help in setting up the soccer teams. They canvassed the entire second grade for players, and came up with 24 kids — enough for two teams. It made sense to put their daughters on opposing teams, so each of the men could coach his own daughter. But soon four more parents were lining up to help with the coaching.
The outpouring of enthusiasm and support was unexpected — and heartwarming.
“This has been fantastic for a school that is young and developing,” Rodriguez says. “The unity that’s been created in the school because of these teams is unbelievable.”
He explains that, while the school is a wonderfully diverse community, families at Starr King sometimes have had difficulty overcoming the socio-economic obstacles amplified by so many different programs serving so many different needs.
The soccer program, on the other hand, has been a great unifier.
“PAL soccer created a lot of friendships, both between kids and parents,” Rodriguez says. Family socials often followed soccer practices and games. Parents and kids in programs with little overlap were suddenly talking and laughing together.
The two teams practice together once a week. This year, the teams have been coed. Next year, they will divide by gender — the Gophers will be boys and the Storm will be girls.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff has multiplied. Jones and Rodriguez and two other parents will coach the girls next year, while, astonishingly, six parents are now on board to coach the boys.
“Yes, that is right,” Rodriguez says, pleased that the interest is off-the-charts high. “A total of 10 third-grade parents will have taken the day-and-a-half training for their license to coach kids.”
For Rodriguez and Jones, coaching takes roughly 4-5 hours a week during the 10-week spring season. Because they help with each other’s team, the two men probably spend more time on the soccer field than most PAL coaches. Rodriguez notes that collecting the initial paperwork can be a bit daunting, but once the forms are in, administratively there is little to do except make sure parents know the dates, times, and fields for each game.
For the two men, it’s been a labor of love.
The referee blows the whistle, signaling the end of the game. Each team scored several goals, but as the kids rush off the field, no one quite cares who won or lost. They are thinking about the luscious snacks that beckon to them from a picnic blanket on the sidelines, to where they swarm like happy bees.
For more information about becoming a SFPAL coach, call our office at (415) 401-4666 or visit our volunteer page.
by San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker
Two dozen San Francisco teenagers are getting a glimpse of what it takes to be a police officer this summer through a new Police Activities League program intended to create a pipeline from the local streets into city law enforcement.