A new way for EPA kids to get their kicks | September 20, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 20, 2006

A new way for EPA kids to get their kicks

Founders of new youth soccer league put their money where their mouths are

by Alexandria Rocha

If it wasn't for a new low-cost soccer program in East Palo Alto, many of the 400 kids who played their first games Saturday at Cesar Chavez Elementary School would have been zoning-out in front of the tube.

For Shannon Pekary, executive director of the newly founded Ravenswood Youth Athletic Association (RYAA), it's just the beginning.

"About a third of the (East Palo Alto) population is under 18, and really, there is nothing else for them. It's either this or video games," Pekary said. "The kids are waiting for someone to get them organized. We have a captive audience."

Pekary, a handful of volunteers and 30 coaches were able to organize a successful kick-off event Saturday. For the entire day, more than 40 teams of kids aged 4 to 18 played dozens of games -- each opening with a prayer.

Because the City of East Palo Alto and the Ravenswood City School District recently faced significant cutbacks to recreational and after-school programs respectively, Pekary wanted to fill the gap and decided to start the faith-based RYAA, which is currently waiting for its nonprofit status to be cleared.

If all goes well with the first soccer season, which will run through November, Pekary plans to start leagues for basketball, baseball, flag football, volleyball and indoor soccer.

Pekary and five friends are currently operating RYAA out of their own pockets. He said it will cost about $80,000 to run the current soccer season, and they have so far raised about $30,000 in private donations. He thinks it will cost about $300,000 a year to run RYAA at full speed with all sports.

It sounds like a difficult undertaking, but Pekary said the kids in East Palo Alto deserve an economical option for athletics.

"We're interested in having soccer be an avenue to build up families, build up the community, and build up the kids," Pekary said. "Whether they turn out to be great soccer players really isn't that important to us."

The inaugural RYAA soccer season cost each player $40, which helps pay for uniforms, insurance, equipment and the $5 per player fee the Ravenswood district charges for field use.

Pekary said comparable programs run through cities can cost $90 to $150, which many kids in East Palo Alto cannot afford. A competitive soccer league can cost more than $1,000.

Twenty-five percent of RYAA's players are in a work-to-play program. Kids who cannot afford the $40 can work off their membership through various jobs, including setting up for games and cleaning up afterward. Some of the older teenagers also learn to referee, which could lead to paying gigs.

Other players have recruited their fathers and uncles to coach and referee in exchange for membership dues.

"We want to give them an option without just giving it away," Pekary said.

For the past five years, Pekary was the commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO) in East Palo Alto. Two years ago, he realized the AYSO model does not work in his community.

Under its guidelines, AYSO must be run by all volunteers. Pekary said there are not enough volunteers in East Palo Alto, as most parents have to work full-time or at two jobs and many families leave after a few years because of skyrocketing housing prices.

In 2004, 30 percent of Pekary's AYSO coaches left.

"Phone numbers went dead," he said.

The same thing happened in 2005.

Pekary hopes RYAA can someday soon be an organization in which coaches and referees will be paid.

Besides playing the game, Pekary said RYAA is a way for adults to develop relationships with the community's youth. Down the road, Pekary would like to have a full-time counselor on staff to work with kids who seem to be struggling off the field.

"I've lived in East Palo Alto for 15 years. Part of the reason I'm doing this is because I want to see the kids who are really struggling get those extra resources," he said.

For more information on the Ravenswood Youth Athletic Association, call 331-0382 or e-mail ryaa@ravenswoodsports.org.

Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at arocha@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by Don Res
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 6, 2007 at 9:01 am

Is there specific information available on how to make a small donation to Ravenswood Youth Athletic Association? DR

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2007 at 9:13 am

Most people work. Most parents who volunteer for the local AYSO in Palo Alto work full time and long hours. Parents who want to provide a soccer outlet for their kids volunteer after they finish their work day. The fact that there are not enough parents in EPA willing to volunteer some of their free time is the problem. They need to address that issue as a community. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer.

Like this comment
Posted by referee
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 6, 2007 at 10:50 am

In other AYSO leagues, mothers and other women can coach and referee. East Palo Alto might double its volunteer pool if it didn't just rely on fathers and uncles.

Does anyone else think that $200/player for a soccer season is awfully high?

I agree with Resident: families need to step up and support their kids, in academics as well as in sports. The rest of us work too, and somehow we manage to stay involved in our kids' lives.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2007 at 11:15 am

Whereas I agree that mothers and other women could and should participate in their kids sports, I think it is worth making this comment.

Boys in particular need men in their lives as role models. This is particularly true in an area like EPA where many boys grow up with their fathers being more remote than perhaps here in PA. These boys need to see men doing ordinary things to help them, being teachers, being coaches, being uncles (biologically or not) and most importantly being mentors. These boys are growing up surrounded by caring women, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, but many of them are in homes where the father is not present or known, or perhaps even not there due to crime related issues.

Any group of men that is willing to go to EPA and work with boys are doing a service to the whole of the community. The women will have some of the pressure taken off them, the boys will have role models and the rest of us will be safer knowing that the male youth is getting a program where they can exert their maleness in a safe environment which makes the community safer.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Well, most of us have normal jobs with normal schedules. The parents in east palo alto area are coming in after you leave your work to clean your office, or serve or cook a meal at a restaurant. They even have to work the weekend. Their work schedules may not be as accommodating as most of ours. (something to think about)

Like this comment
Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Sep 6, 2007 at 2:03 pm

"The rest of us work too, and somehow we manage to stay involved in our kids' lives."
The "rest of us" rely on each other for support. We rely on the families in our community who have an extra parent available. Our kids are in AYSO teams or Scout troops or ___insert your favorite parent-led activity here____ that have a larger pool of parents who don't work full time or whose employers allow them a bit of work schedule freedom.

We might own two or more cars to drive our kids in different directions, while they might own two or one or none. We might have a nanny watch our other kids (or drive our kids to soccer) while some of them ARE the nannies who are driving our kids around. We might regularly swing by a restaurant on the way home from practice because we're too busy to cook.

The list of inequalities goes on. Although I don't go for the argument, "well, we can do it, why can't they", I fully agree that parent involvement plays a critical role in a child's success. If we can solve this problem, I believe the achievement gap will be significantly reduced.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2007 at 2:04 pm

I think it's odd that a one year old article is being posted as though it were news. I thought I clearly remembered reading this last year, and indeed, the date is September 20, 2006 - not 2007.

But more power to them - they are in their second year of youth soccer.

Like this comment
Posted by Lyda
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2007 at 4:47 pm

I live in East Menlo Park and I have a normal work schedule and a normal job and it is not claening the office or being the nanny. My kids have been in the Tinsley program and going to school in Palo Alto. I want the best for my kids. It is not that I do not want to be involved. I don't have the resources to be a volunteer and still be a parent to my other children. I work the day shift and my husband swing. It is all on me when I get off so it makes it difficult to be in 2 or 3 places at the same time.