Omar Cervantes, Technical Director of Sheriffs FC and the Deputy Sheriffs' Activities League in northern California, was honored as one of 50 national recipients of Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award. US Club Soccer’s Players First partner Positive Coaching Alliance took their recognition of Cervantes to another level, inviting him to the PCA National Youth Sports Awards in Santa Clara, Calif., as an honorary guest who was featured among three other national Double-Goal Coach Award winners.
Cervantes has brought a “free-to-play” concept to his organizations where families don’t incur any costs to participate. And while the focus is on impacting young athletes, Cervantes also works diligently to connect the players’ parents together to create an inclusive environment.
US Club Soccer caught up with Cervantes to discuss his aspirations for Sheriffs FC and how it’s impacting the community.
US Club Soccer: What did being honored at PCA’s National Youth Sports Awards mean for you personally? And what does it say about Sheriffs?
Cervantes: It was an honor to have been nominated and recognized by PCA, and touching to see the support from friends, family, co-workers and former colleagues in the process. It's nice to be recognized for one's work and to have a moment to reflect on the impact we, as coaches, can have on children on and off the field.
All that being said, I was most excited about the opportunity of highlighting the work we are doing above all else. Sheriffs FC is just a blip in a huge network of programs created and cared for by Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) and one of its non-profits, the Alameda County Deputy Sheriff's Activities League (DSAL). Sheriffs FC – the club is less than two years old – would not exist without forward-thinking individuals like ACSO Captain Marty Neideffer and Hilary Bass. Marty and Hilary created DSAL out of a need to engage community members, and it's important to note the work they've done over the last 15+ years in our community. DSAL and Sheriffs FC are a model for what can be done when good people and public agencies can work together for the common good of a community. Their work is about creating access and opportunity with a traditionally disenfranchised community, as far as I'm concerned.
US Club Soccer: What are your hopes and aspirations for Sheriffs – short-term and long-term?
Cervantes: Short-term, we continue to work every day to provide access and opportunity in our community. We push to provide best possible training environment and compete in our NorCal Premier leagues and events, while never losing sight of the fact that we serve a dual purpose – to care for these kids on and off the field. We consider each and every member as part of our family, and if you ask any of the players (or their family members), they would say the same. It's nice to come to work knowing everyone is eager to be there and excited to learn and play.
Long-term, we will continue to focus our efforts on facility development, staff development and fundraising. As anyone in the club soccer scene can attest, facilities and staff are key components in running and sustaining a proper club where player and character development are the priority. We will continue to work with our members, the Sheriff's Office, public agencies and the private sector to create more access and opportunity for our unincorporated communities. There's a major lack of field space in our community and we have people, like Nick Lusson (pictured above with Omar on the right), along with Captain Neideffer (ACSO) & Hilary, the DSAL Excutive Director, who are always looking for funding opportunities that would help us alleviate a big need in our community.
US Club Soccer: Has there been a defining moment(s) so far with Sheriffs where you know your (and your colleagues like Nick’s) efforts are working for these kids and the community?
Cervantes: It's hard to pinpoint one specific moment as every so often something pops up that really stands out. For me, however, gaining acceptance into US Club Soccer (July 2017) and into NorCal Premier (March 2018) was huge for our program. Access is what has allowed us to see the many club-wide examples that show us this is working for our kids and community: high league placement, high state cup placement, first organized team for many kids, first time to the beach for some when we went to Surf Cup in November, higher grades for some kids, better behavior at school and home, first time interacting with older and/or younger kids, new friends they never would have had before, and the list goes on.
We have a free grassroots league with hundreds of fun-to-watch players, who had never had a chance to play in sanctioned leagues until last year. The level of excitement has been unbelievable. It's unreal to see how excited the kids get when we hand them their kit. I feel sometimes I take for granted the little things, and our kids and families unknowingly give us a reality check at what's truly important in sport. These kids are excited at the opportunity to play. I can't say this enough: they're truly excited at the opportunity of just having a chance to play, and that's a huge change from what I am used to as we continue to build a club with the community.
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