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George Jacob Meza, left, and Brian Lopez, middle, participate in a soccer drill with San Clemente High’s Gage Zerboni as part of the GRIP Soccer camp. Photo by Steve Breazeale
George Jacob Meza, left, and Brian Lopez, middle, participate in a soccer drill with San Clemente High’s Gage Zerboni as part of the GRIP Soccer camp. Photo by Steve Breazeale

By Steve Breazeale

On April 8, 40 middle school kids from San Clemente were all on one of the Vista Hermosa soccer fields at the same time, playing the game of soccer.

The sixth, seventh and eighth graders from Bernice Ayer Middle School and Shorecliffs Middle School in San Clemente were invited to take part in the GRIP or, Gang Reduction Intervention Program, three day long soccer session at the sports park during their spring break.

On April 8, after the kids had completed the morning’s passing, dribbling and shooting drills, several guest speakers came to talk to the children, who have been deemed “at-risk” by their respective schools.

“(The program) gives us the opportunity to show (the children) that we care. That we love them and we’re focused on making sure they make the right decisions in life,” San Clemente football head coach Jaime Ortiz said.

Ortiz, who was also joined by members of the Tritons soccer coaching staff, stressed the importance of leadership and told the kids to trust their support groups, like their teachers, coaches and families. Tritons soccer standout Gage Zerboni was also in attendance and spoke to the children about his own struggles of growing up as the youngest in a family full of high achieving athletes.

After a quick visit with local firefighters, who gave the kids a tour of their fire truck, the kids got back onto the field to play the 20 against 20 free-flowing game. Zerboni, along with several other members of the Tritons soccer program, mixed it up with the kids and inspired some wide eyes with trick shots and passes.

Event organizer Ed Molina immediately recognized soccer as a useful tool in not only allowing the kids to have fun on their spring break, but to teach discipline and teamwork. He brought along longtime friend Bob Riddle, an Englishman who played at the highest level in the English Premier League, to help run drills and exercises that enforce those values.

One such drill limited players to touch the ball only three times during the duration of the drill. The next time around they were only allowed to touch it twice and the final time through, only once. The goal was to find an open teammate and move the ball.

Angel Lagunas, an eighth grader at Bernice Ayer Middle School, participated in this week's GRIP soccer program at Vista Hermosa Sports Park. Photo by Steve Breazeale
Angel Lagunas, an eighth grader at Bernice Ayer Middle School, participated in this week’s GRIP soccer program at Vista Hermosa Sports Park. Photo by Steve Breazeale

“(Soccer) provides them with an opportunity to make decisions on the run, on the move, like in life,” Riddle said. “Decisions, you got to make them, you got to think about them and then you got to make them happen.”

Some of the children, like Angel Lagunas, an eighth grader at Bernice Ayer, play soccer to get away from the distractions that can cause one to go down the wrong path. Lagunas said that instead of taking a can of spray paint and going on a tagging spree around town, he and his buddies lace up their cleats and take to the pitch. The opportunity to come and work on his soccer skills while on his spring break is something that Lagunas and his friends have embraced.

“(Soccer) helps us exercise and helps us get away from anything bad. …An example would be something like tagging. You use soccer to get away from that because you’re with your friends and not doing anything bad,” Lagunas said.

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comments (1)

  • First and foremost what a great program and great example of people giving of their time and resources for a great cause. I have praise for the what transpired those three days but suprised at the labeling of children and the way the camp was suggested. As a parent of a child that was pictured in the article I was able to see the good of the program and laugh at the “at risk” part but dad not so much. We were told that it was a soccor camp and son chosen because he loves sports. Even agreeing to have his picture in the this article I was not once aware that he would be presented as “at risk.” Considering my son’s father is a police officer in another county, he has a stable home life, etc. he is by far under the category of “at risk.” I can put that aside because since we were unaware and my son was unaware of his new label what he experienced was amazing! He came home every day raving about the things he saw and the people who encouraged and inspired him. He had only wonderful things to say about the volunteers and every experience he encountered. Even on the last day he said, “mom, some lady paid for all this great Mexican food for everyone–the kids and the volunteers. Usually kids only get a small portion but she bought enough where everyone could have so much food and we were so hungry after working out all day…I bet that lady is going straight to Heaven when she dies because she could have bought anything with her money but she gave so much to strangers.” Thank you to the volunteers and to the many that created such an amazing, inspiring event. Labeling children publicly…not such a great idea…even if a child is “at risk” that child does not need to be publicly displayed. That’s a marketing or publicity issue complaint. Nothing but thanks for such amazing volunteers and City workers who believe in motivating kids.

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