(From the December 2008 Promise newsletter...)

UPA Soccer Team Scoring Goals On and Off the Field

In the Urban Promise Academy neighborhood, soccer is big. You see it in our parks, on restaurant televisions, and under the lights on any night at the Cesar Chavez Education Center field. Thanks to Coach Matthew Linzner and his young stars, it’s also part of the after-school program at UPA. At the end of last school year, Coach Matthew and some of the team’s veteran members – 8th- graders Jose and Yong-Fu and 7th- graders Jose-Luis and Alexander, aka “Peanut” – reflected on the experience.

“It’s way better than just staying at home and watching TV,” said Jose. “It helps us build a team relationship,” Yong-Fu said. Coach Matthew takes pride in the team’s evolution. “The cool thing to see is the changes the program and team have gone through,” said Coach. “It’s been a lot of work to establish this team concept, where we respect not just our team and school, but ourselves. They’ve gotten better at soccer, and at supporting each other and working together. They take the things they learn about on the field – respect for the other team, sportsmanship – and apply it to school, bring it into the classroom. That’s the goal.”

As Yong-Fu put it, “playing on the team makes you check yourself.” “Sometimes you get mad and you have to just calm down and keep your cool,” Alexander explained. “When you do that, you get respect from other people.”

The players credited their coach with helping them value sportsmanship and hard work. “He’s a good coach,” they said in unison. “He keeps the team together. He plays with us and tells us when we’re doing something wrong, and pushes us to fix our mistakes. He challenges us!” They were also quick to point out that Coach Matthew makes sure their grades are up – if not, they can leave their cleats at home until their schoolwork improves. The kids know, too, that soccer may have lasting benefits beyond middle school. “It will keep us healthy when we’re older, and keep us off the streets,” said Alexander.

Finally, soccer has been a great community builder for UPA: The team trains twice a week at the beautiful field on the nearby Cesar Chavez Center campus, and plays games at San Antonio Park against teams from all around Oakland. This community spirit came together one Friday afternoon this October when more than 200 people turned out to coach, referee, and cheer on teams from UPA and three other schools. Several of the referees and organizers were UPA alumni. “Soccer helps us meet new friends and also see old friends on other teams,” Alexander said.

The fall league officially kicked off November 1, with the Jaguars fielding three teams: 6th-grade boys, 7th- and 8th-grade boys, and 6th- to 8th-grade girls. Wish them luck!