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UC Riverside soccer player Katie Wong makes her biggest assists off the field

UC Riverside soccer player Katie Wong makes her biggest assists off the field
Katie Wong is a freshman defender for the UC Riverside women's soccer team. (Jerry Soifer)

Katie Wong's big right foot helped her earn a soccer scholarship to UC Riverside after she scored more than two dozen goals in three seasons at Corona Santiago High.

She has a bigger heart off the field, a philanthropic dynamo who has been a benefactor to Riverside and Orange County organizations as well as a supporter of her father, Stan, a Los Angeles police officer, and his colleagues.

The 5-foot-2, 140-pound freshman defender earned multiple Southern Section and all-area honors while at Santiago. She graduated with a 4.6 grade-point average.

Her work off the field has etched her name in the memories of many who have come in contact with her, including Corona Fire Capt. Jim Steiner and Los Angeles Police Sgt. Cliff Yamamoto.

Steiner spotted a 10-year-old Wong from the cab of the 55-foot 9-inch long ladder truck while returning from a structure fire in south Corona in summer 2010. Wong was selling lemonade from a stand she had made in front of her home. Steiner and his crew stopped, the truck blocking the Wongs' driveway.

They learned Wong and her sister, Hannah, then 7, were raising money to help with the medical expenses of Santiago baseball player Nick Hurtado, a neighbor and friend who had been diagnosed with bone cancer.

“We decided to stop because we were thirsty but also because we wanted to help this kid raise some money,” Steiner said. “We would often stop at these types of lemonade stands just to provide a little support.”

Hurtado had signed a letter of intent to play at Cal State Fullerton before the cancer was discovered in 2009. He graduated from Santiago in 2010. Hurtado attended Fullerton for three years before he died in March 2013 at age 21.

Hurtado's mother, Patty, doesn't remember how much money Wong brought over, but she’ll never forget the generosity..

“It was amazing,” she said. “There were tears. You can't put into words when a child does something like that. She did a school report with pictures after he got cancer. Most people when you say the word ‘cancer’ it freaks them out, especially young people. It didn't scare her. She's very rare. She's got a beautiful, huge heart for others.”

Wong was at a soccer tournament in Las Vegas when she learned of his death.

“I was devastated when I found out,” she said. “I couldn't focus throughout the last few games I played in. Nick and his father [Tony[ always used to play baseball with me out in the streets until the sun went down and my parents would have to drag me back inside because I wanted to stay outside with Nick and just throw the ball around.”

Wong expanded her charitable work as she grew older. She formed a group named “Two Hands” to raise money to help sick children. She made bags for the poor. She rehabilitated used dolls to give to underprivileged children. She assisted mothers of Blue Star Families and was responsible for gathering more than 1,000 holiday cards to send to troops overseas. She served ice cream and visited the elderly at Valencia Terrace, a local senior community.

Katie Wong
Katie Wong was a star midfielder at Santiago High in Corona. Jerry Soifer

During her senior her year at Santiago, she teamed with Yorba Linda High student Kaci Stewart, a former club soccer teammate, to raise more than $55,000 for the Orange County Inland Empire chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“We fund-raised by gaining sponsors, a mystery dinner night, and family and friends just donating out of goodwill,” Wong said. “I did this campaign because I know so many family friends who have been affected by this form of cancer and I felt in my heart that this was my time to help take action in order to help researchers find new cures and treatments for this aggressive cancer.”

During a period of criticism of police in 2016, Wong showed support for 22 of her father's LAPD colleagues by creating gift bags for each that included Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, gum and Life Savers.

Each sweet had a message tied to police work. Yamamoto called the gift bags "heartwarming. It was a very kind gesture."

The gum was meant to symbolize police sticking together, Laffy-Taffy meant to remind of the stress relief provided by laughter and Tootsie Rolls for the officers to roll with the punches.

“I just did it out of goodwill and I knew that this simple act would sprinkle some positivity that was surrounded by a ton of push-back and negativity society usually gives the police force in general,” Wong said.

After their first meeting, the now-retired Steiner developed a deep friendship with Wong and her family.

Steiner documented Wong's community service in a letter of recommendation for a scholarship. “As I watched Katie grow, it was quite evident she was turning into a community leader and entrepreneur,” Steiner wrote.

Wong's goal at UC Riverside is to earn a degree in psychology or political science so she can help people.

“She just has always been a giving child,” said Wong’s mother, Julie Bennett-Wong.

Wong said her mother is the source of her feelings for others.

“She got me involved in community service,” Wong said. “She made me want to make a difference in the world and care for other people, to give more than I receive.”

Her parents see the same selfless person at home that the public sees in the community. She helps her mother, who has compartment pain syndrome as the result of left knee replacement surgery and uses a wheelchair, and adopted sister, who is 15 and has autism.

A “very, very responsible and respectful person,” her father said.

Hannah Wong said she is glad to be included in her sister’s busy lifestyle, especially their trips to the “juju shop [for smoothies], the beach and shopping at high end stores in south Corona.”

Wong does not see her sister’s autism as a burden.

“In the classroom, Hannah's autism can be a bit tough for her, but honestly, if someone were to open up the question to Hannah's autism being a burden to all of us, I would absolutely give a hard no,” Wong said. “Having Hannah as my sister makes me realize that there is so much more than to just complying with societal norms and how to act and what to say, but with Hannah, she defies those norms that society limits us to."

Wong’s mother said she was pushing her daughter to become a dancer. Wong started taking ballet lessons at age 3.

“I hated ballet,” Wong said. “The teacher was mean. It was too girlie. I'm a tomboy.”

Wong was 4 when she saw the sport that would become her favorite for the first time. She told her mother that she wanted to play soccer after seeing the game on a children's television show.

“I’ve never, ever watched a soccer game,” Wong’s mother said. “It was so foreign to me. I begrudgingly signed her up. I’ll never forget her tearing out of the back seat, dribbling the ball over to the coach like she had played it for years.”

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