Young Soccer-Poets Avidly Follow World Cup



America SCORES operates after-school programs in under-resourced schools. This year, 8,000 kids have played soccer and written poetry through the program.

As the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks into action, kids in San Francisco will be watching the games on a big screen outside City Hall.

They’ll start on June 14 with the match between Colombia and Greece, two days after the opening Brazil vs. Croatia game. During the day they’ll take part in soccer clinics, a picnic and other family friendly activities in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza.

In Los Angeles, kids from Charnock Elementary School have already written and recorded the song “World Cup, It’s Time” — now posted on YouTube — with the help of film composer Heitor Pereira.

These World Cup activities are courtesy of America SCORES, a national organization that engages elementary and middle school kids in both soccer and creative writing. It’s active in 13 U.S. cities and in Vancouver, B.C.

This year, 8,000 kids have played soccer and written poetry through the program. In fact, the poetry program culminated with a national poetry slam of 26 young writers performing at the New York Stock Exchange.

America SCORES operates after-school programs in under-resourced schools — ones that lack money for meaningful enrichment programs in out-of-school time. It focuses on kids ages 8-12. Children practice soccer two afternoons a week and attend writing workshops two other afternoons. They play a soccer match on Friday. Participants are called poet-athletes.

“We are addressing the fun elements of childhood,” said Executive Director Holly O’Donnell. Kids are involved in both mental and physical activity and they’re in positive peer groups with a positive adult role model, she said.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the World Cup,” she said. Some of the youth and coaches have emigrated from countries where soccer is hugely important.

Colin Schmidt, who heads the Bay Area program, says the San Francisco big-screen broadcast is a way to celebrate the area’s ethnic diversity as well as the World Cup.

“We have kids and families from around the globe who live in San Francisco,” he said. Many come from Central and South America.

The broadcast, however, is also to create a “leave-behind” with the kids who live in the Civic Center neighborhood, he said. It’s to expand the program and reach more kids. Currently, the program is in 30 schools across the Civic Center, Mission, Excelsior, Baview, Western Addition and Tenderloin neighborhoods.


Briana Scurry, Olympic and World Cup soccer champion, is spokeswoman for the national organization. She particularly likes the inclusion of poetry in the program. Kids have the chance to memorize and perform what they write.

“It’s pretty amazing” to see the kids perform in a poetry slam, she said. They get fully involved in it. Through poetry, they can express many things about their family and their lives, she said.

“It makes learning fun and spills over into the classroom,” she said.

It also fills a need because “a lot of kids in under-served areas may not get as much help as they need in schoolwork.”

The goal of the organization is to inspire the kids to lead healthy lives and be engaged students.

The number of girls and boys in the program is about even. Forty-seven percent are Hispanic and 29 percent are African-American.

America SCORES wants to build confidence and character and influence children to make a positive difference in the world.

The crucial role of teacher-coaches

O’Donnell believes a key element of the program is its strong link with schools.

“The reason why our model is successful — and we have been so successful in replicating it — is because we hire and train public school teachers to run the program,” she said. The program is located on-site at schools.

“It means the teachers are able to link the school day and the after-school day for the children,” she said.

It builds bonds between teachers and students and lets them get to know each other in a way they otherwise would not, she said.

On Friday afternoon, teachers are coaching games and parents come to watch and socialize. It builds strong community, she said.

O’Donnell also emphasized the value of the peer group. “You form a team of children and that helps carry students from when they start out as 8-year-olds.”

Founded by Teach for America volunteer

America SCORES was founded in 1994 by Julie Kennedy, who was teaching in a Washington, D.C., school through Teach for America.

“She noticed girls didn’t have anything to do after school,” O’Donnell said.

Kennedy feared they were at risk of gang activity or other dangers. She started playing soccer with them, but when the weather turned bad, they moved inside. Then she began to teach them poetry.

“She saw that things girls learned on the soccer field translated to writing with kids in school,” O’Donnell said. The students worked together as a team and they problem-solved together. They became more engaged in class.

The peer-to-peer relationships and the relationship to a mentor were important, O’Donnell said. Kennedy also added a service project that she believed led to students becoming more confident.

The program expanded to other Washington schools, and in 1999 became a national organization. Boston and San Francisco now have the largest programs.

More than one-third of funding from America Scores comes from corporations and foundations. More than one-fourth comes from individuals and special events.

Sponsors include Adidas, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Meyer Foundation, Patton Boggs, US Soccer Foundation and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In 2006, America SCORES began collaborating with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to create the ASCAP Songwriter Residency. This year, composer Pereira, who worked on the movies “The Smurfs,” “Despicable Me” and “It’s Complicated,” co-wrote and recorded with sixth-graders at Charnock Elementary in Los Angeles.

Kids across the country have worked with 42 songwriters over the course of the residency. In 2010, a commercial CD was created featuring five tracks written and recorded by The Great Unknown and America SCORES poet-athletes. The residency is funded by the ASCAP Foundation.

In San Francisco, America SCORES currently is partnering with San Francisco Recreation and Park to broadcast World Cup games on the big screen. Games will be broadcast on seven days, including the finals on July 13.

Schmidt expects the Mexico vs. Brazil game to draw a lot of viewers. But African and Middle Eastern countries are also represented in San Francisco, he said.

“On any given day, some group will be watching,” he said.


Poems by the youth of America SCORES

Read more


by Henry L., San Fransico Bay Area

Otoño has llegado
Las hojas caen
Las hojas vuelan
Adonde irán?
Una taza de
Chocolate caliente
Me espera
En casa
Granadas comemos
En el otoño
Otoño te puedo ver
Por la ventana
Otoño no te vayas
Por favor te voy a extrañar


Autumn you have arrived
The leaves fall
Leaves fly
Where will you go?
A cup of
Hot chocolate
Waiting for me
At home
We eat pomegranates
In the autumn
Autumn I can see you
By the window
Autumn don’t you leave
Please, I will miss you


“When I Grow Up”
by Zaniyah G., Chicago

When I grow up, I’m going to run away
from all the sickness and pain I see each day
Spreading like a disease in my community
Like an angry cough that won’t go away
When I grow up I’m going to run for mayor
(vote Zaniyah if you care)
and lock up all the people who kill.
Spreading sadness and HATE in my community
making innocent hearts, go still.
When I grow up, I’m going to college
so I can help people in need
Spreading hope for a better future
Why follow, when I can take the lead?
When I grow up, I have plans,
to do the best I can.
So if you’re already a grown-up, please stop
and give me a hand.

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