Coaches Find Soccer Unites Kids, Families, Communities

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.

SK Gophers United Coach Terrence Jones

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.

Program gives kids a peek at life as a cop

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.

Click here for the full article on SFGate

PAL judo going to nationals!

Sam, who has been participating in PAL judo for 8 years, is going to the US Judo Federation/US Judo Association First Annual Junior Judo Nationals in Irvine over the fourth of July weekend. Sam started judo with coach Bill Wong at PAL when he was 10 years old and is currently a student at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts High School.

The PAL judo program is held at the Mission Recreation Center, 745 Treat Street, from 4:30 to 6:30 Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. The program is on summer break right now, but will resume on August 16th.

Best of luck Sam!

Legendary NBA, PAL Player Kevin Restani Dies

It is with great sadness that we pass along the following from Riordan High School alumni director Viggen Rassam:

I was informed early this morning a Riordan legend, Kevin Restani passed away last night after suffering a heart attack.

For many alumni and people who grew up in the City in the 60’s and 70’s, the name Kevin Restani is well known. Kevin a graduate of 1970 was the first and possibly only member of the alumni to have had a sustainable career in the NBA.

After a stellar career at the University of San Francisco, Kevin was drafted in 1974 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played a total of eight years with the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, and the Cavaliers. He then enjoyed a long career playing basketball oversees.

For many on campus you will remember Kevin as the head of our basketball program from 1995 through 1997 as he served in the role of head varsity coach.

After Riordan, Kevin worked at various SFUSD schools as a counselor. He was recently a counselor at Balboa High School. Kevin also worked with children through the Olympic Club, where he continued to enjoy his passion of being part of the sport of basketball.

Kevin brought much joy to the family and friends that knew him. A regular at Riordan functions, mainly basketball games and the Purple and Gold Gala, his gigantic presence will surely be missed.

Please keep his wife, Roberta and all of Kevin’s family in your prayers.

Robert Fernandez Goes the Distance to Revitalize SFPAL Boxing

Robert Fernandez and four of his young boxers

PULLING NO PUNCHES — Robert Fernandez with four of his young boxers. From L to R: Darrin Gaines, 12, Mario Lopez, 9, Cameron Smith, 8, and Albert Lopez, 8.

Robert Fernandez is on a mission.

In a small boxing ring two flights up in the Bayview YMCA, Fernandez watches four young boys, ages 8 to 12. The boys circle about, making hissing sounds as they jab and punch the air. They pivot and weave. They lunge. They hold their fists clenched, wrapped in tape, close to their chins. Every so often, a boy steals a glance at Fernandez. He is their coach and mentor — the man they look up to, the man who can turn them into boxing champs — and they want to make sure he sees them.

Fernandez watches, and calls out to each boy, one by one.

“Keep your balance! I want you to bend those legs!

“Look where your hands are! You’re going to get hurt that way. You’ve got to keep your hands up, close to your face. That’s it!”

In another day, these boys will compete in a boxing tournament, and Fernandez has to get them ready. As head of SFPAL boxing, the 40-year-old electrician isn’t content to teach the kids a few moves and send them home. He wants nothing less than to restore SFPAL boxing to its former glory.

“My goal is to make this program one of the best in Northern California,” he says. “I want these kids to compete at a high level. I’m an intense coach and I’m a tough coach. I tell these kids it’s not Romper Room here.”

Boxing has a long, storied history at SFPAL. Started in 1959, the year of SFPAL’s founding, the boxing program was run for 25 years by the great Earl Gonsolin, a much-loved San Francisco cop who passed away last year. Gonsolin developed many boxing champions, including Paul Sherry, a three-time Golden Gloves winner and the 1975 national champion.

Gonsolin also coached Fernandez’s father, Albert, a retired lieutenant with the San Francisco Fire Department who competed in three Golden Gloves tournaments.

Though Robert Fernandez never took boxing lessons, as a youngster he would tag along with his father to the SFPAL gym at the old Armory at 14th and Mission, and “hit the bags.”  He soon developed a passion for the sport.

Gonsolin’s retirement from the program in 1984 coincided with a general petering out of interest in the sport. By the mid-1990s, boxing hit a low point in San Francisco. It vanished from the SFPAL roster.

In 2008, three San Francisco police officers stepped up to revive the sport. The three officers — Tom McGuire, Rain Doherty and Michelle Henderson — launched the new program at the Bayview YMCA. The program faltered, however, when the Y was closed for renovation

Boxing was reignited under Fernandez this past January. Fernandez ran a program for kids at the Ring of Fire Boxing Club and brought some of his kids over to SFPAL, along with his passion for the sport.

Despite his lack of experience as a competitor, it turns out that Fernandez is a very talented coach. “I have a knack for coaching,” he says. “I’m a student of boxing. I love boxing. I am constantly picking up tips to use in my coaching.”

Mario, 9, works on keeping his face covered.

Mario Lopez, 9, works on keeping his face covered.

Cameron, 8, spars with the punching bag.

Cameron Smith, 8, spars with the punching bag.

Robert Fernandez helps Darrin Gaines, 12, with glove

Robert Fernandez helps Darrin Gaines, 12, with glove

He is in good company with some of the best boxing coaches. He mentions Muhammed Ali’s coach Angelo Dundee, who started out as a “cornerman” for boxers but never got in the ring himself.

Fernandez calls boxing a “thinking man’s game — a chess game.” He thinks it’s unfortunate that boxing has gained a bad reputation because, in his view, it’s a great teacher of discipline, respect, hard work, friendship — and quick thinking.

“You really have to think in this game. If you don’t, you’ll lose,” he says. “You have to have some kind of game plan. The moves aren’t planned ahead of time. You may have to think a step or two ahead. But you have to be able to make adustments along the way. You have to think, how can I beat this guy, using his strengths against him?’

As an example, Darrin was in a fight last year where his opponent was winning because he was bigger and stronger. So Fernandez helped Darrin devise a strategy to win by outwitting his opponent. Fernandez won’t divulge the strategy — Darrin’s got many more boxing matches in his future, after all — but the 12-year-old was able to mount a comeback and win the match.

Boxing also teaches kids to be gracious losers. If they lose, he says, they need to dust themselves off and go back into the ring another day.

Today there are 10 kids in the SFPAL program, ranging from 8 to 17, and Fernandez says he can handle up to 20. He’s in the process of recruiting two assistant coaches. In the long run, he would like to expand the program even more.

He also trains his son, Michael, 20, who has 50 fights under his belt and is shooting for the 2012 Olympic trials, and after that, the ranks of the pros.

Fernandez is a tough taskmaster. But he also wants the kids to have fun. They work out five days a week and sometimes on Saturday. Sessions run two and a half hours.

He calls himself a “stickler for fundamentals.”

“I work constantly on basics every day,” he says. “A lot of kids aren’t really taught the basics of boxing. I want my kids to have that. If a kid doesn’t have that, he’ll look sloppy. He’ll look like he’s in a street fight. He’ll run out of gas. He’ll hit with unnecessary punches. Kids shouldn’t be put in the ring that way.”

The outcome of the tournament was a success for Fernandez and his boys. Both Cameron and Darrin won best boxer in their divisions. Darrin will compete in the regionals in May.

The 12-year-old Darrin says he has tried lots of sports but likes boxing the best. “I can’t stay away from it,” he says. “Boxing is the hardest sport you can do. It’s the only sport I want to do.”

SFPAL boxing registration is ongoing and the season is year-round. Training sessions are held at the Bayview YMCA at 601 Lane Street, M-Th from 4:45 to 7:00 p.m. The fee is $80 and includes registration in the United States Amateur Boxing Association. For more information, visit our website at or call the SFPAL office at (415) 401-4668 or Coach Robert Fernandez at (415) 595-4200.

PAL Boxers Advance to Regionals

This past weekend, some of our boxers competed in the Junior Olympics.  All of our of kids did great!  Cameron won best boxer in his division (8 years), and Darren (12 years) won his division and moves on to the regionals on May 8, 2010.  Congratulations all!

In other boxing news, PAL Boxing Coach Robert Fernandez has been appointed as registrar for USA Boxing Northern California.

Junior Giants Registration Starts Monday

Want a free, non-competetive summer activity for your child?  Join our new PAL Junior Giants program.  Registration is from April 19 to May 7.

SFPAL Supports Beach Chalet Renovation

The Rec & Park Commission decides today whether to move forward with the planned renovation of the four Beach Chalet soccer fields.  Converting these fields to synthetic turf will add 9,000 hours of play time each year, not to mention saving countless ankles from being sprained on the abundant gopher holes.  See an editorial by Phil Ginsburg and Susan Hirsch in today’s Examiner for a full explanation.

NEW! 2010 Summer Cadet Academy

NEW! Calling all teens for our new 2010 Summer Cadet Academy.

Apply today! See our cadet program page for application (due Friday April 23, 2010 at 5:00 PM)

— 4-week intensive Summer Cadet Academy at the San Francisco Police Academy

—  Up to 40 new cadets will be selected

— June 21 to July 16 M-F 9 AM to 3 PM

— Graduates will be immediately eligible for internships at SFPD stations/bureaus and PAL Cadet weekly activities

Cadet Program Page

Farewell to beloved ref Benny Legere

Benny Legere, who refereed basketball and umpired baseball for PAL, CYO, Rec &  Park and other city leagues for more than 50 years passed away on Wednesday. He was 77 years old.

Ken Garcia wrote a touching tribute to Legere in the Examiner. Scroll down the page to the second section.