Sophia Isom with 14-year-old son Donald. Now she and her husband can spend more time at his football games.
Seahawks President Greg Isom is retiring from the program to spend more time with his son.
Two longtime Seahawks volunteers are retiring after more than three decades of service to the PAL football and cheerleading programs.
Seahawks President Greg Isom and PAL Board Member and former Cheer/Dance Program Director Sophia Isom have been a critical part of the programs since the early 1980s. The husband-and-wife team is considered by many to be the backbone of the Seahawks. They helped to build the Seahawks programs into two of PAL’s strongest and most popular offerings, and their departure is viewed with great sadness.
“They are two of the most amazing volunteers,” says Lorraine Woodruff-Long, Executive Director of PAL. “They are going to be greatly missed. This program would not be what it is were it not for Sophia and Greg. I cannot praise them highly enough.”
Greg and Sophia can’t remember a time when PAL wasn’t a part of their lives. They both grew up around PAL coaches and PAL sports. Greg’s father, Hugh Isom, was a PAL baseball coach when Greg was 12. Sophia’s dad, Bill Garrick, coached Seahawks football alongside PAL Hall of Famer Kelly Waterfield for many years. Along the way, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends have all joined in the effort and volunteered for PAL. In fact, the Isom-Garrick participation has been described as something of a “dynasty.”
“I used to help wash uniforms and work in the concession stands when I was younger,” Sophia says with a laugh.
In fact, Sophia and Greg knew each other as kids. Her half brother, Rodney Garrick, lived across the street from Greg and the two were best friends.
“There were always a lot of kids around,” Greg says. “Knowing Rodney, I knew the whole [Garrick] family. We all grew up playing PAL sports.”
In 1981, Rodney asked the 21-year-old Greg to help him coach the boys football team. Greg quickly got hooked, or as he puts it, “invested” in the kids. Soon he was head coach of the younger boys. His role grew year by year, and in 2003, after more than 20 years, Greg was named Seahawks president.
Sophia’s tenure started accidentally in 1983, the year she and Greg got married. She showed up at a Seahawks game to watch Rodney and Greg coach, and found herself scrutinizing a ragtag group of cheerleaders.
“I saw this group of girls on the field who didn’t have uniforms. It looked like a lot of chaos,” she says. “I thought, Who’s in charge of these cheerleaders?”
Sophia knew a thing or two about cheerleading, and she also knew something about coaching, having done both things in high school. Before she knew it, Sophia became the lady in charge — not only coaching the girls, but overseeing the entire Cheer/Dance program.
When she stepped down in 2003 after 20 years, the Seahawks Cheer/Dance was attracting 120-130 girls annually and winning national dance titles. In 2001, she became the first Seahawks coach, male or female, to have a team win a national Pop Warner championship. Her girls took tops honors in the Dance category. Her accomplishments led to her being inducted into the PAL Hall of Fame.
TENDER REASON FOR RETIRING
Despite such heady success, Sophia and Greg had reason to be thinking about retiring. In 2003 they adopted a 5-year-old boy, Donald.
Today Donald is 14 and Sophia says he’s “never once complained” about their long hours spent tending to the Seahawks. Nonetheless, they know it’s been hard on their son. Their long commute from their home in Vallejo to jobs in San Francisco means that, during the football season, they would often not get home until late in the evening.
Greg admits to feeling guilty at times. He says he realized his son had played 50 football games with his local Benicia league, but as a father, he had only been to see about six of those games.
When they decided to retire “It’s like a big weight has been lifted,” Greg says. “Now that my son is going into high school, now that can just be my focal point. I can just go and watch his game and just sit there.”
A SAD GOODBYE
Nevertheless, Sophia and Greg say the decision to retire was a hard one.
“It’s been such an important part of our life,” Sophia says. “We really got a chance to see how important this program is for these families and these kids. You’ve really got families that deal with a lot. They look at you for support. I’ve just become very attached and very protective of the program.”
Greg and Sophia tell story after story about the kids they’ve coached, many of whom are exposed to violence, broken homes, economic hardship, and more. The two have done more than just coach, they have also mentored and care for these kids — giving them rides, feeding them, counseling them, sometimes even bailing them out of jail.
Years later, players have come back, often to sign up their own children for the Seahawks, and to say how much Greg and Sophia meant to them when they were kids, struggling to figure out their lives.
Greg remembers how one young football player lamented he would never be able to play varsity football in high school because his grades were so poor. Greg talked to him.
I said, “You’ve got to change your perspective on the way you approach school. You can’t go sit in the back of the room. You have to understand — the teachers work for you… All of the kids who sit in the front, those are the same people you’re going to have to ask for a job in a few years … Don’t get disrespected in the classroom. Tomorrow go to school and sit in the front and make the teachers answer your questions.”
After that, the student “pulled straight A’s” every year and ended up being recruited by Washington State. But the story doesn’t end there, because the young man ultimately quit playing college football because he didn’t want his grades to suffer. Today he has a master’s degree and works at a university.
“When things like that happen, it rejuvenates you,” Greg says. “It also lets you know the significance of everything you say around the kids … I was always trying to get the point across [to volunteers]. This is so important — what you’re doing right now. … Just don’t disrespect a kid … it will have an impact on them.”