Beyond Soccer

Building Community

by | Apr 15, 2012

Photo courtesy of Fútbol con Corazón.

 

It’s like being part of a real family.

I don’t want to get into what I was like before I got on the team because I’m not proud of it. Lots of gang stuff. I don’t know why I was into that, but I didn’t have a lot when I got to the U.S. I guess I needed to belong, and people from my country were in a gang so I joined to feel like home for me. But I’m proud of myself now, ever since I started playing. I got out of the gang and got on the soccer team.” It is not entirely unusual for us to hear similar stories from boys around Somerville High School.
 
The Somerville High School boys’ soccer team has become used to success.We consistently make deep runs into the state tournament. We are always at or near the top of the Greater Boston League. We are used to having college and club coaches come to our games to watch our student-athletes. The things that make us proudest, however, are our accomplishments off of the field.
The team’s motto is “gentlemen first, scholars second, athletes third.” As a coaching staff, we do our best to instill these values into our players. What head coach George Scarpelli and the coaching staff try to create is a family atmosphere. It’s important to give the kids a safe place where they feel like they belong. Most of them come from families that have been broken up by immigration or have parents that work long hours, and they need the feeling of a family. In fact, “family” is 
the word that comes up most when talking to members of the team.
 
The growth of soccer in Somerville mirrors the changes that have taken place in the city. What used to be considered a predominantly white, working class Massachusetts city has become home to many immigrants, especially from Brazil, Haiti and El Salvador, where soccer is popular. Many of the athletes on the soccer team are immigrants trying to adjust to life in the United States. We try to provide them with the things that they need, whether it is support, help finding a job, or in some cases a place to live. Many of them have gone through difficult times, and most still do not have an easy life now. They talk about their lives once in a while, and they have the most powerful stories about life in the home countries, and of their journeys here. 
 
While winning soccer games is great, it is not our most important job. We want to give our student-athletes a foundation that will enable them to do great things later in life. Our work does not end when the state tournament is over. We meet nearly every week to discuss volunteer options, jobs, and, most importantly for our seniors, college applications. Our main goal is 
to ensure that the best years in the lives of our boys are not the high school years; that they are in a position for better things to come. When Scarpelli learned that one of his student-athletes had won an award from his teachers for over-all improvement in class, he said “That’s better than winning a state tournament.”
 
Each and every coach, and there are many of them, has an important additional role to play in the program. Some help with jobs, others with community outreach. My main job on the team is to keep track of grades and discipline within the school. The real secret to the success of the team is the boys themselves. They provide each other with support, guidance, and, most importantly, friendship and family feeling. The results of our efforts show up in many ways: by the growing number of the boys who attend college, by the attendance of former players at games, by the emails and phone calls from coaches and parents from opposing teams.
 
One player told me, “I don’t know what I’d do without the team. It’s a part of me. I get better grades now. I go to 
bed on time. I come to school. The coaches and players showed me how to do things the right way. It could be different for me, but I made the right choices. It’s all because of the team.” Another student-athlete put it much more succinctly: “We’re a family on the field.”

Spring 2012Volume XI, Number 3

Ryan Guilmartin is a Somerville High School history teacher and soccer coach.

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