EL PASO, TEXAS– What started as a six-month assignment for Englishman Simon Chandler in El Paso some 20 years ago, evolved into a long term love affair with border culture and resulted in a soccer team for the city’s oldest immigrant neighborhood, Segundo Barrio.
“When I first came here I wasn’t too keen on it,” said the 47 year old Chandler, whose first volunteer job in El Paso was at the immigrant advocacy organization Annunciation House. “But I think what I’ve liked is the Mexican culture.”
A native of Marlborough, England who played soccer as a young man, Chandler said six years ago when he began looking for an opportunity for his son to play the sport he was surprised to learn there was no boy’s team in Central El Paso.
Undeterred, he began coaching soccer at La Fe Preparatory School but soon realized there was a need for a team for the entire Segundo Barrio community.
“I would always have kids (from the neighborhood) coming up and asking me if they could be on the team,” said Chandler, who now teaches second grade at the bilingual Hart Elementary School. “But because it was a school team, it wasn’t open to the community in general.”
In 2011, after two years of coaching the La Fe Preparatory School soccer team, Chandler sought out sponsors and launched the Segundo Barrio Futbol Club (SBFC). He opened the team to all Segundo Barrio children at no cost.
“We sent out leaflets and fliers and invited kids to come and do a soccer summer camp with the intention to form one team,” he said.
By the end of summer 2011, SBFC had recruited 30 players and had to expand to two teams. Over the years, the Futbol Club has grown to about 100 players and three different teams.
Marcos Adame, the captain of the team for 12 and 13-year-olds, has been playing for SBFC since the club began
“It’s helped me stay away from other things like drugs,” Adame, 13, said.
Through his participation in the team, Adame and his teammates have traveled to Austin for a soccer camp.
“I had never been outside of El Paso,” he said.
Not content with just providing a sports outlet for neighborhood children, Chandler has since also created a reading club for the young soccer players. He said he recognized a need for the after school academic focus because most local children are learning English as a second language and struggle with reading.
The new club is called the Soccer and Reading Club and operates out of nearby Hart Elementary School, also in Segundo Barrio.
“As a schoolteacher, I know how important it is to try to get the kids excited about reading, and its gone pretty well,” he said.
According to Chandler, the Soccer and Reading Club is a unique program that combines both athletics and academics after school twice a week. Here the children learn through hands-on activities and projects.
“The soccer team ends up being like an extra safety net, or an extra motivation,” he said.
Not only do the SBFC players gain soccer and reading skills, but they also learn discipline and responsibility through participation in the club.
Many of the young players come from single parent households, and do not have a father figure to look up to. All of the SBFC coaches are men, which gives the young players male role models.
“I try to be strict with them and teach them discipline,” said Ricardo Nava, coach of the under 13 team.
Through strict training and high expectations, the players have learned that once they commit to something, they have a responsibility to follow through. There are two days of soccer instruction, and two days of reading instruction.
“One of the conditions of being in the program is that you have to attend all four days,” Chandler said. His 16-year-old son, Owen, now coaches soccer with his dad on the SBFC.
The strict set of expectations set by the coaches on the young players is one reason for its continuing success.
“They’re the best coaches,” said Adame, the team captain. “They’re making this happen for us.”