On Astroturf fields enclosed by Plexiglas walls, Preconception Peer Educators (PPE) led close to 100 elementary school students in warm-ups of jumping jacks, pushups, squats and jogging, before they took to shortened fields for games of five-on-five with the help of adult players on each side.
Children clad in their everyday tennis shoes, but the same midnight blue Urban Initiatives jersey, attacked the ball and implemented passing skills learned during their twice weekly practice, in what Urban Initiatives cofounder, Jim "Coach D." Dower refers to as "organized chaos."
Above the constant screams of running children, Dower explains how he and business partner Dan Isherwood, started Urban Initiatives eight years ago "to take kids out of their community and show them other parts of their city."
"We really wanted to address the need of providing program for healthy character and education information," Dower said.
Now, students from 16 schools practice twice a week, scrimmage once a week - receiving snacks of healthy granola bars, water and 100 percent fruit juice after every event - and have the option of field trips to community sporting or cultural events. Buses are provided to transport children by Urban Initiatives and parents are invited to be involved in all activities.
This particular Friday, smatterings of parents rest on tiered aluminum benches, watching numerous attempts on goal, monitoring their child's progress.
Alberta Smith came out to see her 8-year-old, Jujuan Smith play, noting that "he's doing well here and in school."
"It's a good program," said Jujuan, who has participated in the program for the past two years, "I think it's great. I've learned how to do a rollback and pass at the same time and how not to use my hands. I mostly like the sport all around."
"Assistant Coach" and Reavis Elementary Preschool teacher Brenda Lugo accompanies the students from school to the soccerplex and has noticed the improvements the children turned soccer players are making. When they first started the program, Lugo would've compared the children to a flock of birds, all swarming after the ball. Now, their ability to spread out and pass the ball to teammates is evidence of their growth.
"The program is mostly about sportsmanship, how to play nicely and get along with other kids," Lugo said, noting that the program integrates health and nutrition components. "I think they've learned a lot about how to get along and work more as a team instead of as individuals. It's really helped the kids, physically, to be able to exercise their bodies a lot better."
Focus on Partnerships to Eliminate Disparities