By ANDI ENNS
June 13, 2012
Coach Ann Murphy said she hasn’t told her middle school soccer team they’re going to the Show-Me State Games in Columbia, Mo., yet. It’s in July, and the coaches finished fundraising in May.
“We take it one game at a time,” said Murphy, who works in Historic Northeast as a Kansas City Police Department officer.
While the El Padrino Fútbol Club might take it one game at a time, stepping back tells a much larger story.
To provide a positive outlet for youth in Northeast, Murphy and her best friend, Kansas City Public Schools’ teacher Mallory Simmons, formed the El Padrino Fútbol Club team for youth ages 10 to 14.
“Youth today are exposed to violence and harsh conditions everyday. However, youth are also our future and when encouraged to succeed, they will shine,” she said.
Murphy watched a dozen middle school boys and one girl kick a muddy soccer ball around Polo Fields. Their sunny yellow jerseys almost had you believe it’s not raining. Every so often, the goalie missed the ball and it flew through the ripped net.
The youth live in Northeast and are nearly all immigrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other Latin countries. One boy recalled playing fútbol on the streets in his hometown, but this is the first time any of them have played on a team.
The middle schoolers used to be trouble makers. They got bad grades and got in hot water with the law. It’s a story police officers like Murphy have heard a thousand times. But this time, she had a different ending in mind. She and Simmons decided to make the youth a deal.
“We told them if they could keep their grades up and stay out of trouble, they could be on our brand new soccer team,” Murphy said.
The players have to keep a 2.5 GPA, stay involved in the college prep program at school, utilize tutoring services, and stay out of trouble at school, home and with the law.
Murphy pointed at one player covered in mud.
“See him?” she said. “He got in trouble at school yesterday, so we made him run laps. He did it willingly, too, because he wants to stay on the team.”
The boys exercise as punishment for acting up. It’s not too bad though, Murphy said. The boy she pointed to had gotten into trouble for flicking a rubber band – a much more measly crime than busting out windows like other troubled youth.
It’s the kids’ enthusiasm for playing that keeps Murphy and the three other coaches dedicated, she said. She and Simmons have both taken second jobs to pay for the team’s expenses.
“Most teams make you pay a thousand bucks to play,” said Murphy. “These kids don’t have that. They have nowhere else they can go to play.”
They cut costs wherever they can. The uniforms are donated by El Padrino, and the kids practice at the park instead of on a real field.
“All the coaches donate our time,” said Murphy. “But you still have expenses.”
The youth get two uniforms, a warm-up suit, a bag, player’s insurance and entry into six leagues and one tournament so they can play year-round. Murphy said the fee is as low as they can make it.
“Kids bring me nickels and dimes to pay for it,” said Murphy. “I don’t mind, but I know it’s hard.”
Sometimes businesses sponsor the team. Murphy said she’s thankful El Padrino sponsors the uniforms.
“I play in the El Padrino women’s league,” Murphy said. “And I went to Raul with this spreadsheet of expenses, and I told him about the kids. I told him he wouldn’t make any money, and he said that was okay.”
Murphy said she needs sponsors year-round.
“We didn’t even have any balls when we started playing,” Murphy said. “And sometimes people try to steal them at the park. We always need more.”
They’re also starting a letter writing campaign to Adidas to ask for a discount on shoes. Murphy said she’s hoping to find scholarships for some of the youth who can’t afford the fee. She and Simmons decided they will personally sponsor two youth next year.
She said she hopes people will continue to be touched by how far the students have come.
“It’s like night and day,” Murphy said.
She hopes they get into college on soccer scholarships, like she did at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo.
“They don’t always win,” she said. “But they’re little. The oldest one is 13. And they’re playing against high school students a lot of the time, double their size.”
The other team’s players sometimes have mustaches, said Murphy, but her team is composed of children. It makes the boys feel insecure sometimes, she said.
“I just tell them, ‘Wait ’til you hit puberty,'” she said. “They still have time.”
Murphy also tells them to know their strengths.
“I tell them not to be worried about being slower than the other kids,” Murphy said. “I mean, even David Beckham is slow. But, he has amazing accuracy. So, even if they have a weakness, they have a strength that can help them become a champion.”
She said she’s proud of them for playing at all, and for scoring at least once per game.
“I can’t wait to see how good they’ll be when they can play against kids their own age,” said Murphy.