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Kids’ goals are teacher’s priorities
Educator runs Bronx soccer club to help his players learn to ‘get far in life’
by Ellie Spielberg | November 25, 2010 New York Teacher issue
It appears to be an emerald plateau floating high above the din of the city in the South Bronx. Built atop a massive parking garage, Macomb’s Dam Park soccer field is eye-to-eye with the top stories and grand friezes of the new Yankee Stadium, which looms across the street, majestic and gargantuan as a Roman coliseum.
It’s a lofty place, eternally green, where young athletes can dream big dreams, and is quite possibly the most beautiful athletic field in all of the city.
Last summer, at a Yankees game, teacher Andrew So caught sight of the field as he walked up a ramp to his seat. It was love at first sight for this soccer coach.
Could he possibly move his South Bronx United Soccer Club to this paradise from the bumpy old baseball field across town that the team called home?
After months of effort and several successful grant applications, So is calling out to his kids at evening practice on Macomb’s field, the sky bright as day under the huge field lights:
“Think about switching the ball! You have the whole field in front of you!”
The San Francisco native has been playing soccer since he was 9, long before he got his license in math and before destiny led him to teach at New Day Academy, where he now works part time as special education coordinator.
“Come on, guys, two minutes!” he shouts.
The rest of So’s time — pretty much except when he’s sleeping — is spent running the 450-member boroughwide soccer club for kids of all ages, which includes teaching in the tutoring program, presiding over afterschool practice and weekend games, writing grants and networking with other Bronx nonprofits for youth.
He also plans college prep activities for the travel program, in which 100 of the kids play competitively and keep an eye on higher education as well as the ball.
“The kids motivate me. We become family. My passion has always been soccer and education, and now it’s soccer, education and the South Bronx,” So says.
“I scored two points this weekend!” shouts Matche. The 7th-grader from Urban Assembly for Applied Math and Science, who plays midfield and forward, scored two goals at a recent game against the Latin Stars on Randall’s Island and is proud of it.
Before the night’s practice, many kids received one-on-one help in the tutoring program, held at the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports at the Mott Haven HS campus.
The program partners with the International Rescue Committee and includes kids who have arrived in the United States from refugee camps or have political asylum.
Around 60 percent of the players are from West Africa, Latin America and South America. All the kids are at risk for getting pulled into gangs.
“This keeps me away from street gangs,” says Christopher on the hike from the Urban classroom to Yankee Stadium.
The 10th-grader, who commutes to Manhattan to attend Vanguard HS and plays midfield and forward in the travel program, says he had so many family problems that his grades fell last year.
“They really care about you here, about grades, about college. My grades are in the 80s now. I can focus better. And soccer makes you free!” he says.
“When I play soccer I feel free,” says co-captain Jeffrey, an 8th-grader from MS 203 who plays central defense.
Freedom is a sentiment you hear a lot of on the emerald plateau high above the fray.
“It’s all because of coach Andrew,” says the father of midfielder Juan Pablos, an 8th-grader who is the club’s one Queens kid. During every practice at the field, the PS 61 student meets his dad, who works in the Bronx and found the soccer club soon after arriving in the United States from Colombia.
A kid runs over and translates for the father, who has more to say. He puts his hand on his heart as he speaks:
“Coach Andrew teaches the boys a lot about life. And he wants all his players to get far in life.”
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