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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.
“(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.