Deon Rodgers, Dean of Students at East Big Picture, has been involved in city school soccer for more than two decades, including 21 years coaching. see A piece of the puzzle at East Big Picture
Deon, East High ’93, is the City Catholic Soccer League Chair. Last year, he coached the World of Inquiry boys varsity team to the first city Sectional title in 36 years, making it all the way to the State Championship before losing by 1-0 to Rhinebeck. The accomplishment earned him honors as the 2014 Boys Varsity Soccer Co-Coach of the Year, the first time this award was given to a city coach. Deon is also President of the Riverflow Soccer Club.
Fittingly, Deon provided me with the “Big Picture” as to where he sees soccer heading in the RCSD.
Right now, primarily international and immigrant students — first and second generation — are attracted to soccer. In their counties of origins, soccer has a deep, if not centuries long, tradition brought with them to this county by themselves or their parents. In many ways, RCSD soccer teams form as multicultural communities, sometimes as a haven and a refuge and always as a bonding experience.
Throughout the District, you will see players with backgrounds from all over the world: Yemen, Russia, Ukraine, Tanzania, Iraq, Syria, China, Somalia, Nepal, Ethiopia, etc. For example, the World of Inquiry 2014 team had players from 5 – 6 countries Matching the school’s demographics, the East team includes players from at least 4. (See Deon’s picture of the Eagles in action.)
By contrast, African-American boys tend to gravitate towards basketball and football. As we know, identification with football/basketball teams and players is often an important part of adolescent male identity. Talk about Being Like Mike (well, when I was nearer their age) or playing for the Knicks (does anybody want to play for the Knicks anymore?) begins on the morning bus ride. They can go any weekend to Cobb’s Hill to watch their older siblings, cousins and fathers play. see Rochester’s own streetball Rucker League
Baseball tends to attract Hispanic boys whose culture is steeped in the sport. Think of School # 8 named for Roberto Clemente. By far the majority of players on East’s city championship team are of Hispanic descent. As someone who has umpired Spanish League softball games at the Waring Park fields, I know how the Sunday afternoon doubleheader draws crowds of all ages — whose passion can sometimes be loudly directed at that umpire — for what become all day mini-festivals. see East baseball triumphs again
At the same time, Deon sees a slow but sure shift. When African-American and Hispanic boys (who also come from a soccer rich heritage) join soccer teams, they are always embraced. As he says, when a star athlete chooses to focus on soccer and not basketball or football it will be news. But that day will come. And it will be a good thing, only enhancing multicultural understandings. Soccer as a kind of melting pot.
On the upswing of city soccer, Deon describes the vibrant growth of the most popular sport in the world:
Drive around the city and you will see pockets of people playing soccer. Jefferson High School, Dr. Freddie Thomas Campus, South Avenue Recreational Center, Cobb’s Hill, and School #46 All you need to play the game is a soccer ball. You can see just as many pick up soccer games as pick up basketball and football games throughout the city. At these games, you’ll encounter players and fans of all ages and countries. At these games, people are bridging divides.
While all you do need is a ball, goalposts and lined fields enhance the experience.
As Deon explained, most fields had rusting goal posts without nets. So, Riverflow Soccer helped purchase and erect goal posts with nets as seen in the picture at School #46. Fields also should be lined. Every week Riverflow volunteers, like Head Coach of the Riverflow U-17 team Jim Herman, get the fields into game order. On sometimes frosty Fall early mornings that might be Deon at your local pitch (or field in American) pitching in.
So next time you see a game taking place at East or another school or just on an open city pitch/field, you are watching a wave of the future–as Deon says–bridging divides.