By John Philip Wyllie
The San Diego Spirit and the city of San Diego’s Department of Parks and Recreation have teamed up with a new program that will provide San Diego’s inner city children with a rare opportunity. The program, called “Soccer in the City,” will provide free soccer clinics hosted by San Diego Spirit players at 11 parks throughout San Diego.
“Soccer in the City” kicked off to a promising start on July 17 at 32nd street’s Stockton Park and Recreation Center in a largely Hispanic community south of the downtown area. Among the estimated crowd of over 100, was local resident, Victor Franco who brought his daughter Andrea, son Victor Jr. and nephew Andres Martinez.
“I’ve been playing since I was younger than these kids,” the elder Franco explained, “and I’ve tried to teach them to play, but this is great (having professional players here to run a clinic).”
Franco was impressed by the warm personalities of Spirit goaltender Jaime Pagliarulo and defender Amy Sauer and liked the gentle way in which they instructed the children. His son, Victor Jr., a 22-goal scorer in league competition a year ago, has inherited his father’s love for the game. He hopes to someday become the next Cuathemoc Blanco. Apparently, he is well on his way.
“I have about five trophies,” he said proudly, one MVP (trophy) and three other ones, but one of them is partly my sister’s,” he admitted. Having seen the Spirit many times on T.V., the younger Franco enjoyed getting the opportunity to play along side of them.
“They passed the ball to me and I almost scored two goals,” he said excitedly. The Spirit players were equally thrilled about the opportunity.
“This is truly giving back,” Pagliarulo said. “When you can reach out to the kids who are not fortunate enough to get to the games and play organized soccer, you can give them a taste of what it is like. Hopefully, it will spark some interest and have a positive influence on them. We expect to get a certain amount of support from the girls, but it is great for us to see the interest coming from these little boys. They want to know about the team too. It shows we are connecting with all of the kids, not just the girls.”
“Coming out here and playing with these kids was a blast,” said Sauer, Pagliarulo’s teammate. “Watching their personalities come out on the field is just so fun. It was just so great playing with these kids, I had a big smile on my face the entire time,” Sauer said.
Spirit Grassroots Coordinator, Kara Vichko, who handled most of the organizational details, was equally enthusiastic.
“Obviously, as you can see from this turnout, it was a huge success. The kids were really into it and there was a lot of great soccer. They were using a lot of moves and really communicating with each other,” Vichko said. “This was soccer at its purest level. The kids leaving right now with all their Spirit stuff are going away with big smiles. They were happy to meet the players. Based on what we saw today, I think the program is going to be a huge success.”
In the coming weeks, Soccer in the City clinics will be held at: City Heights, Memorial, Moutain View, Silver Wing, Serra Mesa, Linda Vista, Kearny Mesa, Morley Field, Adams and the North Park Recreation Centers. For dates and further information contact Kara Vichko at (619) 692-9872.