Joe Supe knew that the “F” he saw next to several courses on the boy’s report card stood for failing, not fabuloso, as the boy had told his parents. Yet the parents, who could not speak or read English and were unfamiliar with the American school system, were none the wiser. That is until Supe and the Southern California Youth Soccer Organization (SCYSO) identified the problem and stepped in to remedy the situation.
You may wonder how a student report card made its way to a soccer organization. SCYSO has made academics a crucial part of its mission. Founded in 1998, SCYSO strives to create opportunities for Hispanic and Latino youths in Southern California, using soccer as a vehicle to spur the development of athletic, educational and cultural skills. In 2006, SCYSO worked with more than 20,000 youth players at its various events, tournaments, clinics and programs.
“There is a tremendous pool of players in Southern California, but little to no representation at the national level of Hispanic players and coaches,” lamented Supe, executive director of SCYSO.
Supe and the 16-person SCYSO staff are working to change that by identifying barriers to success and creating programming to respond to these challenges. The U.S. Soccer Foundation awarded SCYSO a $100,000 program grant in 2004 and a $30,000 MLS Players’ Award grant in 2007 to support the organization’s efforts.
“The funding has helped us tremendously,” Supe raved. “Not only because it has supported some of our programmatic efforts, but the U.S. Soccer Foundation backing helps us draw in corporate sponsors, increases our recognition outside Southern California and validates our efforts.”
More than 40 percent of Southern California’s approximately 21 million residents are Hispanic or Latino. Many soccer leagues serving Hispanic youths lack organization, funding, adequate fields, trained coaches and proper equipment for players. Supe believes the economic and cultural divide between the Southern California Hispanic community and the U.S. soccer system has impaired the development of both groups.
SCYSO is endeavoring to bridge that gap. The organization works with coaches to teach them about communication, management, punctuality, professionalism and player development. SCYSO also focuses on youth academic performance. The group retains a former teacher to help improve communication between parents and their children and engages soccer coaches at California universities to speak with players about the importance of good grades and the availability of college soccer scholarships. Another significant issue is the cost involved with competitive youth soccer in the United States. SCYSO helps to cover equipment and tournament costs for select teams that feature the area’s most talented youngsters.
“We spend a lot of time trying to change the mentality of the community,” Supe explains. “It’s been tough, it’s been challenging, but I think what we’ve done helps a lot of people.”