Dael Umanzor lives and breathes soccer. He’s been playing soccer for seven or eight years, and attends Ryogoku Soccer Academy, where he will be a freshman in high school. Ryogoku is a private, all-boys middle and high school at 606 Gladstone Ave. that combines soccer and academics.
Umanzor practices soccer for over three hours a day during the school week, both before and after classes.
“I think [morning training is] more just about waking up your body and mind,” Brad Leonard, the founder and principal at Ryogoku, shared. “In the afternoon, it’s more strategic.”
Umanzor also practices in different conditions, such as big versus small spaces.
“We practice on concrete, we practice on grass, we practice on turf,” Leonard added.
While Umanzor has aspirations to be a professional athlete, he understands the importance of rest. According to Leonard, listening to your body is central. Wellness and nutrition are also emphasized at Ryogoku, and the school spends “a lot of time [teaching] what goes into your body and what goes into your mind,” he continued.
Although Umanzor attends school year-around, Ryogoku takes more frequent breaks than a typical school model.
“We’re able to take off at least one day every two weeks as well, because we’re asking them to do a lot physically; mentally,” Leonard said.
Soccer also brings connection to Umanzor. The students are together each day from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Umanzor expressed that he likes this because he and his friends “can go to school and do lots of stuff together.”
“There’s like a brotherhood that’s forming,” Leonard remarked of watching these friendships develop.
From training and playing soccer together to completing academics, it doesn’t stop there. The boys at Ryogoku watch professional soccer together and talk through what they notice, which heightens their performance on the field.
“We think those conversations are very meaningful because they’re starting to see things within those games that most people will not see,” Leonard said.
The staff is deliberate to not overburden Umanzor and the boys with games, in an effort to make sure “the games they do play are very high quality,” Leonard explained.
Umanzor and others at the academy look forward to traveling to other Major League Soccer (MLS) academies in the U.S. to compete, including St. Louis, Chicago and New York.
Developing community is also an important element to the school.
“Of the 19 [students], I’ll say that they’re representing 15 or 16 countries,” Leonard said. “Their families also bring in their own cultures; their own backgrounds, and being able to incorporate that into our academics has been great.”
Umanzor believes in the importance of contributing to the community beyond his school. He recently planted 150 trees in Northeast Kansas City to help fight pollution. The trees have been planted as seedlings, and are housed in a facility operating as a greenhouse, promoting their initial growth.
“When they’re producing fruit, we’re going to pass [the trees] out to foster shelters… the streets, or go to families,” Umanzor said.
Umanzor is active physically, active within his community, and of course engages academically. He likes that at Ryogoku Soccer Academy, there’s “enough time to do your work and enough time to play.”