This year, the Youth Activities League kicked off an expanded sports program through its partnership with the Up2Us Coach Across America (CAA) initiative. As part of a nationwide effort to mobilize young adults to serve as coaches in underserved communities, CAA sponsored four coaching positions to help the YAL increase its athletics offerings and promote play, teamwork and healthy activity.
CAA provides its coaches with training, stipends and an education award to pay tuition or student loans, but left it up to the YAL to find the right candidates for the job. “The great thing is that CAA is entrusting us to decide what’s best for our kids and communities,” says SYF Program Director Dr. Kathleen Van Antwerp. This flexibility allowed the program to choose natural fits like Celso Chavez, who attended Century YAL as a youth, then returned to work there as a tutor and mentor.
Chavez got involved in martial arts at the age of 12, which led to football, marathon running and other activities. “Sports changed my life — they made me a leader,” he says. “This caused me to want to make an impact on youth who are going through their troublemaker stage, and change their life and experience.”
Coaches were paired with the four largest YALs — Chavez at Century, Bruce McCall at South L.A., Zuri Watts at Norwalk and Luci Segura at Compton. In late September, they attended CAA’s four-day coaching institute at UCLA for in-depth sports-based youth development (SBYD) training.
The coaches then worked with their centers’ full-time program leads to create the YAL’s new SBYD program, planning an intramural athletics calendar with soccer, flag football, basketball and tennis. For the soccer season in early autumn, each center organized two coed teams —ages 7 to 11 and 12 to 17, culminating in a fall tournament and end-of-season pizza party.
“The children love the program,” says Chavez. “They always ask when there will be practice, and they get very excited when they are going to compete. My favorite part is seeing the kids have fun and smile when they are playing.”