Improving attendance and grades: Middle soccer program focuses on education

Magdalena “Maggie” Lara Gomez keeps the ball from Diego Villegas (center) and Quin Quigley (left) as they participate in soccer practice.

Alex Greenfield says he's just a decent soccer player, but that with how much the sport has to offer, he wants every student to reap the benefits. 

"I realized we have a lot of kids in the community that weren't able to do league soccer either because of the time commitment if their parents worked or because of the monetary commitment," Greenfield said. "The clubs are good but for some demographics it's just too much time and money. But athletics helps with grades."

Greenfield began a free soccer program at the middle school level, with the program currently at Rigby and Farnsworth Middle Schools. Their first year, Greenfield said they had 33 students at their max, and now there's 40 students playing this year. 

To participate, students are required to keep their grade point average above failing. Grades are checked at the beginning of each practice and if they don't meet the requirement, Greenfield said they send the kids to education assistance after school.

"It's better for them to come to practice 20 minutes late and be able to get some one-on-one academic help," he said. 

Before they ended practices for the winter, students met once a week to work on their skills. The program costs are completely covered by community sponsors and players get a ride home on the late bus, which has been coordinated with the district. 

Greenfield says these kids are tough and even beat a local club team last year in a scrimmage. He also says they show data that suggests their players' attendance was better on days they had practice.

Although they've put soccer on hold until it gets warm enough to play again, Greenfield told his players that if they kept their grades up, they could do two practices a week. 

"It'll be busy but I want to keep my promise to the kids," Greenfield said. "So we're always looking for volunteers."

Those that want to volunteer or donate to the program can get in touch with Greenfield through his email at agreenfield@sd251.org

Students that want to get involved from Rigby and Farnsworth Middle Schools can find information on flyers that will go up once they start preparing for the season, through school announcements, school social media or at the school office. 

"My ultimate goal is to get the program recognized by the athletic departments and get the respect that the other middle school sports do," Greenfield said. "The most difficult thing is finding games for the kids to play. They want the same athletic experience as other kids."

He hopes that they'll be able to prove that the program is a benefit to the district and that negative behaviors and grades are diminished through soccer. Greenfield also hopes that they'll be able to get their program in every middle school in the district. 

"The sport offers so much, the more ways we can allow people to play, the better," Greenfield said. "If we can use it to improve academics, then we've got a gold mine."