Nearly two decades ago, one soccer ball helped unite an entire community.
Victor Daniel Muñiz is currently one of four coaches for Estrella De Oro Academy (Golden Star in Spanish), a soccer club that brings together kids from Northeast Kansas City.
He said his goal is not only to teach the skills of the sport, but to turn the students into great leaders.
Juan Muniz, Victor’s father, originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, started the club in 2002 near Lykins Square Park.
Victor said back then, the neighborhood was divided between many different nationalities, including Italians, Mexicans, and Vietnamese.
“No one talked to each other,” Victor said. “I think it was the language barrier and everyone just having different cultures.”
Victor’s father, Juan, changed that with one soccer ball.
“It was a $2 soccer ball from Walmart. He brought it out and started playing with us, and eventually people from the neighborhood noticed, and came to join us,” said Victor.
The group continued to grow and eventually totaled roughly 350 people. They began playing matches at Bellvediere Park, which is currently in the process of being sold since the closure of Chouteau Courts.
Today, the group focuses on coaching children from ages 4 to 12.
Victor works with them to teach the basic skills of the game, but he said he also makes sure to have conversations about advancing their education and becoming a better person.
“Everyone wants to become the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi,” he said, “but I always remind them that they can also go to school. There’s UMKC, Rockhurst, Penn Valley, and a lot more.”
Victor said the biggest change he has seen as a coach isn’t with the kids, but the parents.
“The parents show up and are really focused on winning. I always tell them that we win no matter what. Soccer is a game.”
He said he also makes sure to discuss the option of college with the parents, the majority of whom are not from the United States.
“It’s hard to see the parents sort of shortchange their kids when they don’t realize that college is an option. There are grants and scholarships available to help them, and I want to make sure they know that.”
Last year, Victor paid for a group of EDO girls to attend the U.S Women’s National Team in the 2018 Tournament of Nations.
“I asked them one day if they knew there was a women’s soccer team and all the girls said no. I pulled from my savings account and did whatever I had to do to take them. It was their first time at a stadium and first time seeing a professional women’s team.”
Estrella De Oro meets every Monday and Wednesday at the Garrison Community Center in the Columbus Park neighborhood.
The fee is $35 per month, but Victor said most of the kids can’t afford that, so he helps them fundraise or even pays money out of his own pocket to assist them.
Overall, he said he wants parents and other organizers to remember that soccer is a game, and there is much more to take away from the sport than winning.
“Soccer does unite people. It’s magic with a soccer ball. As an organizer, it’s not all about the money. At the end of the day, you can be the difference for kids who don’t have a good parental figure in their life.”
To learn more about EDO, visit their Facebook page at Estrella De Oro Academy.