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Save Our Youth partners with Orange County Soccer Club for free soccer clinics

From left,  Andrew Arevalo, 12, Chelsea Vilchis, 13, Alex Vega, 16, and Angel Martinez, 15, participate in a soccer clinic.
From left, Andrew Arevalo, 12, Chelsea Vilchis, 13, Alex Vega, 16, and Angel Martinez, 15, participate in a soccer clinic put on by the Orange County Soccer Club at the Save Our Youth campus in Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cristy Martinez smiled as she looked at the half-dozen kids playing soccer late Tuesday afternoon at the Save Our Youth campus in Costa Mesa.

Martinez is an alumna of the program, which has been serving the youth of Westside Costa Mesa for 27 years. Martinez, a Costa Mesa native who is an Early College High School and Cal State Fullerton graduate, now gives back to SOY as its program coordinator. She’s held that position since September.

On Tuesday, Orange County Soccer Club defender Rob Kiernan was on hand to give instruction to the SOY youth as part of the program’s after-school activities. This was the fourth straight week that OCSC has had players provide free clinics.

“We’re very lucky that our kids get to get it for free here at SOY,” Martinez said. “We’re grateful for that. Being part of the Hispanic culture, soccer is like our life, right? It’s just something that we grow up watching. Our parents watch it, we watch it. It’s definitely something that’s very rooted in our culture, and I think these kids are definitely having fun playing it out right now.”

Rob Kiernan, a defender with the Orange County Soccer Club, gives instructions to youngsters during a clinic.
Rob Kiernan, a defender with the Orange County Soccer Club, gives instructions to youngsters during a clinic at the Save Our Youth facility.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Kiernan, a defender for OCSC who the club recently announced was re-signed for 2021, gave the youngsters instruction in dribbling and passing. He also taught them tricks like those used by soccer legends Diego Maradona, who died on Nov. 25, and Neymar.

Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup but was tormented by drug abuse and illness in his later years, has died at 60.

“I’ve never had an opportunity like this,” said Alex Vega, a junior at Early College High who has been in SOY for about four years. “It’s really good. I just never thought that I’d be with a pro soccer player training, and that’s something that’s regular on a Tuesday.”

Chelsea Vilchis, an eighth-grader at Costa Mesa Middle School, said she had attended all four of the Orange County Soccer Club clinics so far. She relished the chance to get back on the field, even if she said some of the tricks proved to be difficult.

“It’s fun to get to meet the soccer players,” Chelsea said. “I couldn’t get into AYSO this year and the school team was canceled [due to COVID].”

This week, SOY has pushed back its open hours to 4-8 p.m. since most local schoolchildren are participating in a hybrid school format. Kids can attend in person if they sign up beforehand, and there are also Zoom options.

SOY offers tutoring but also the outdoor activities, like soccer, board chair and interim executive director Mary Cappelini said. The program also offers yoga on Mondays, spin bicycle classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a “bicycle club” on Friday afternoons.

Orange County Soccer Club's Rob Kiernan, second from the left, gives instructions to students at the Save Our Youth campus.
Orange County Soccer Club’s Rob Kiernan, second from the left, gives instructions to students at the Save Our Youth campus.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cappelini said that Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds helped arrange the partnership with OCSC. Reynolds is a former girls’ soccer player at Estancia High who sits on OCSC’s Hispanic Advisory Board.

“They first came out to help us with our food distributions,” Cappelini said.

“We’ve been doing that at SOY since May, and that’s how we first got to know them, which was exciting. Then they said, ‘What else can we do? Let’s teach some them soccer.’ We weren’t able to do anything during the summer, but then they started to open up sports. I said, well if they’re allowed to kick the ball around at the high schools, they should be allowed to do it at SOY as well. We wanted to provide the opportunity for students, many of whom either didn’t make the team or couldn’t afford it, or aren’t playing any club sports. This really helps our kids to get out and exercise a bit, too.”

SOY’s involvement within the City Council doesn’t stop with Reynolds, who grew up in the Freedom Homes housing tract on the Westside. Martinez said that Costa Mesa City Councilman Manuel Chavez, who was elected in 2018 at the age of 23, is another SOY alumnus.

“I remember we’d do our homework here together,” Martinez said. “We still talk about it and laugh about it, and now he’s our city councilman. You would never imagine the kind of individuals that SOY helps shape.”

In a reorganization meeting Tuesday, Costa Mesa city officials recognized the service of outgoing council members before swearing in three new members. Katrina Foley, the top mayoral vote getter, retained her seat.

Kiernan, who is from England and previously played for Rangers Football Club in Scotland, said he had fun teaching the youngsters some skills on Tuesday.

“It’s nice for kids to come out and enjoy themselves,” said Kiernan, who has been leading training online during the pandemic through his Prospect Soccer Academy.

“I feel I can give them something they can take away from it, new techniques, new drills. But listen, I’m also trying to help build the profile of the club as well, the awareness of it. Hopefully, these guys might come down and watch, bring a friend.”

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