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Locke girls’ soccer team has the help of two coach-cops

Locke’s girls’ soccer team has been aided by two LAPD officers helping as assistant coaches.
(Locke academy)

Locke girls’ soccer coach Tony Lawson was in his classroom at the South Los Angeles high school last fall, teaching AP U.S. history, when two uniformed police officers knocked on the door. Suddenly, everyone was nervous. Lawson even thought, “Where was I last night?”

Then Lawson learned the reason for their visit. “They wanted to get involved in soccer,” he said.

So began a Los Angeles police community outreach program that went beyond officers introducing themselves in the housing projects of Watts. The LAPD’s Matt Martinez and Gus Reyes became assistant coaches, earning the trust of players and adults alike. They have become important figures in the effort to rebuild that trust between the community and police, and sports has been key.

“It’s been a godsend,” Lawson said of the officers and their coaching. “I don’t think we would have had our success without them.”

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Locke is playing Venice on Tuesday in the semifinals of the City Section Division V playoffs. Martinez and Reyes are with the L.A. police South Bureau, and work involves interacting with the community in housing projects in the area. The officers, who are officially employed by the LAPD while coaching, both played soccer growing up.

“This is our passion,” Martinez said of soccer.

One contribution of the officers has been providing a safe ride home when needed after practice, transporting players in a patrol car.

At first, players didn’t want to trust the officers, Lawson said, but they earned their trust.

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“It’s been an amazing thing,” he said.

Said Martinez: “I think the initial experience was a little standoffish. Like we had another agenda. We went to several other schools, but the reason we picked Locke was the coach had a high standard. We wanted something more than sports but use it as a mentoring tool to help them move on.”

Martinez said sports was a good way to connect with teenagers. Other LAPD officials are participating in youth programs.

Desrie Vidriezca, an all-league player for the Saints, said players and the officers have learned from each other.

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“We changed their perspective on people from Watts,” she said. “They changed our perspective how they are as cops.”

Of course, the officers know they must act appropriately during games and not go after the officials following a bad call. “We try to keep a high standard of sportsmanship,” Martinez said, a tough thing to do when emotions run high, “especially in the playoffs.”

Lawson said the officers were forging an “authentic connection” and making a difference on and off the field.

“I definitely needed their help,” he said.

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