The Pocket Watch: Soccer in Greenhaven functions “for the good of the game”

I was reminded, while watching the World Cup these past couple of weeks, of what a fun and thrilling sport soccer can be. It wasn’t so long ago that I was swearing that no child of mine would ever be allowed to play this confusing Eurosport. It would be (American) football like his old man, or nothing! By the time my first kid was six years old, he was not only playing, but I was also coaching, and I found myself desperate to learn everything possible that I could about the sport as expeditiously as possible.

Fortunately for me, and for anyone who would like their children to play this great sport, we have an incredible organization in our community, run by a band of dedicated volunteers who give their time and considerable effort to ensuring that our children are able to get a great start in soccer, the Greenhaven Soccer Club. And they do it for a price that won’t bring you to your knees. My son spent several years in the club before branching off into competitive soccer (the cost of which can very well bring you to your knees, depending on the club), and he has his Greenhaven coaches to thank for providing him the foundation he would use to compete at the higher levels of the sport as he got older.

There was much talk during the World Cup among the various analysts, regarding youth soccer in the respective countries, and the differences in how it is administrated, and what the children are taught. The guy from Holland seemed to prefer his country’s method over whatever it is they do in Brazil. The guys from England always comport themselves with an air of soccer superiority over everyone, never mind that their national team never seems to make it out of the Group Stage.

I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine a better system than the one innovated at Greenhaven for their youngest players. According to the club’s Director of Coaching, Wayne Novoa, the program was transformed under former President Mark Bearor, and with the close consultation of board members Tom Bistline, Steve Larson, and current president, Shane Singh. This group developed and implemented the program from what appeared to be a miniature version of the real sport into an innovative configuration designed to get each child as many touches on the ball as possible under competitive circumstances.

Greenhaven’s U6 Division is now comprised of teams that compete only among themselves, rather than against other clubs, such as East Sacramento or Land Park. Every Saturday, the U6 teams are divided into two very small sides of three players each, and they play against their assigned opponents at the same time on two separate fields. The goals aren’t the massive white pipes we normally see on soccer fields, tended by goalkeepers. Instead, our U6 players shoot at “Pugs” little fold out arches that stand untended on the field.

“Our system allows everyone on the field a chance to gain more touches on the ball,” says Coach Wayne. “With increased repetition comes mastery… the kids improve their decision making and their fitness. Perhaps most importantly, they have more fun, because they’re more involved. In the regular system, which is still used by many of the other clubs, it’s easy for the more deferential kids to go an entire game without ever touching the ball. That does no one any good.”

The only way to get the full benefit of speeding the learning curve for our youngest players is to identify potential as soon as possible and funnel it to the national team program immediately. In 1979, US Soccer introduced the Olympic Development Program, which established a pipeline between youth soccer clubs throughout the country and the United States national soccer program. Any player can try out for his or her state Olympic Development Team and the standouts are absorbed upward by the regional and national teams. What’s great is that the kids can still compete with their clubs, as the Olympic Development functions as an ancillary program to the player’s club experience.

We really are at a great point in the proliferation of soccer in America. It’s a sport that has been predicted to sweep the nation ever since the great Pelé peeled off his Brazilian national team jersey and pulled the New York Cosmos jersey over his head in the 1970s. Yet, somehow, it just hasn’t happened. But now soccer really has become woven into the adolescence of the majority of Americans under the age of 30 who played youth soccer. As that generation ages, and as new generations of soccer playing Americans become adults, the tide has turned. This World Cup season, we were swimming in soccer to the point of drowning.

Could anyone ever have foreseen a time when we have not one, but two viable professional and semi-professional soccer franchises in Sacramento? Not only do we have the Sacramento Republic killing it in the USL Pro League, sort of the incubator league for franchises desiring to enter Major League Soccer (the MLS), the most successful professional soccer league ever in the US, but we also have the Sacramento Gold, a highly successful franchise in the semipro National Premiere Soccer League, the incubator for the incubator, if you will.

The bottom line is that our country is definitely becoming a force in this sport that is religiously followed by the rest of the civilized—and uncivilized—world. Our draw in the World Cup was about as bad as could be expected. We wound up in what became known as this year’s “Group of Death”, but we made it out of the group stage to the Knockout Round, where we were ultimately knocked out by Belgium, a country roughly the size, physically and populously, as the State of Maryland, but I digress. A lot of perennial world powerhouses were knocked out at that stage. And many others didn’t even make it to that level, including the land of soccer snobs, England. It should not pass unnoticed that we lost to eventual World Champions Germany by a score of 0-1, but mighty Brazil lost to them by a humiliating score of 1-7.

The US is rising, and we can trace the ascension back to our communities four- and five-year olds. Thanks to local clubs like Greenhaven Soccer Club, we can not only monitor our country’s progress, but we can be a part of it, as well. Now if we could just do something about the diving…

The Pocket Watch appears in each issue of the Pocket News. Jeff Dominguez can be reached at

JFK student wins ‘Poetry Out Loud’

The poet pursues his beautiful theme;
The preacher his golden beatitude;
And I run after a vanishing dream—
The glittering, will-o’-the-wispish gleam
Of the properly scholarly attitude—
The highly desirable, the very advisable,
The hardly acquirable, properly scholarly attitude.

First stanza of ‘Properly Scholarly Attitude’ by Adelaide Crapsey

Henry Molina from John F. Kennedy didn’t realize that performing “Properly Scholarly Attitude” for a school assignment would change his opinion of poetry or that he would be so good at it that he would end up winning the Sacramento County Poetry Out Loud Competition for 2013.

Henry finished first from a field of 15 during the Sacramento County finals, held Thursday, Feb. 7, at Rosemont High School and earned the right to represent Sacramento County in the State Finals, March 25-26 in Sacramento. Carinn Candelaria, from Pleasant Grove High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District, is the Sacramento County runner-up.

In addition to Crapsey’s poem, Henry performed “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

 Henry Molina from John F. Kennedy High School, winner of the 2013 Sacramento County Poetry Out Loud competition. // Courtesy of the Sacramento County Office of Education

Henry Molina from John F. Kennedy High School, winner of the 2013 Sacramento County Poetry Out Loud competition. // Courtesy of the Sacramento County Office of Education

Henry said the event was a lot of fun, though a little nerve wracking, since the judges were local poets themselves and “knew what they were talking about.”

Henry said he came upon “Properly Scholarly Attitude” because of a classroom competition and he needed a poem to perform in front of the class. After he won the JFK competition, he had to choose another one.

“Before I started, I was not a big fan of poetry,” he said, but after he put his mind to the assignment over the course of a few months, he found himself enjoying it.

California’s overall winner will receive $200 and an expenses-paid trip to compete in the National Finals in Washington, D.C., held April 28-30, 2013. A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be awarded at the national finals, including a $20,000 award for the National Champion.

Sacramento Poet Laureate Jeff Knorr served as the Sacramento County Poetry Out Loud master of ceremonies. The competition encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. The program provides students with the opportunity to perform poetry in English classes.

Modeled like the National Spelling Bee, the Poetry Out Loud program began in local high school classrooms, with winners advancing to school-wide, then regional competition. Schools countrywide are participating in regional competitions.

The Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) was once again pleased to partner with the California Arts Council (CAC) in promoting and supporting the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest in the Sacramento region. Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Poetry Foundation, SCOE and its partners encourage high school students to study and appreciate poetry through practice, performance, and competition.

Tim Herrera is Communications Director for the Sacramento County Office of Education.

FIRST Robotics Competition held in East Sacramento

It is unusual to see groups of teenage boys walking around the campus of St. Francis High School, an all-girls school, but on Saturday, Feb. 18, they outnumbered the girls.

NOT WEIRDOS AND GEEKS, the St. Francis Fembots hosted the FIRST Robotics Practice Day for high school robotics teams throughout the region. Teams came from as far away as the East Bay Area. Robotics students are highly desirable candidates at colleges and universities nationwide. / Photo courtesy, Stuart King

NOT WEIRDOS AND GEEKS, the St. Francis Fembots hosted the FIRST Robotics Practice Day for high school robotics teams throughout the region. Teams came from as far away as the East Bay Area. Robotics students are highly desirable candidates at colleges and universities nationwide. / Photo courtesy, Stuart King

The St. Francis High School Fembots hosted a “Practice Day” for the FIRST Robotics Competition known as FRC. FIRST is a non-profit group and the acronym means, ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’. FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Human Transporter. Twelve countries, four provinces and 49 states support the 2,343 FIRST robotic teams. They have over 3,000 sponsors and nearly $14 million in scholarships.

January kits

FRC sends each team a robot kit the first week of January. The teams are given specific instructions on the robot’s capabilities. Each team has six weeks to design and build the robot. At the end of the six weeks, the robots are packaged up and the teams are not allowed to work on them or use them until the competitions begin. Having a practice run to test out the robots right before they are boxed up allows the students to make fixes and adjustments to the robot. Teams came from all over northern California to test their robots at St. Francis.

Having fun while learning

The Fembots explain on their website this multinational non-profit organization encourages and inspires young minds to study and have fun with science, math, engineering and technology.

Elbert Lin and Ankit Shah, both from the Fremont Unified School District helped prepare and program the robot from Team 2489.

“I noticed the robot booth when I was in the eighth grade,” said Shah. “That’s when I got hooked carting the 120 pound beast around.”

Shah who is now a sophomore in high school is the lead designer for the robot he and fellow classmates built. He designed most of this years’ robots chassis ball manipulation. His team has four days left to complete the finishing touches on their robot.

“This weekend at St. Francis gives us the opportunity to see how the robot is working out,” Shah said. “Now is the time to make any necessary changes. On Tuesday we have to box it up until our first competition the end of March.”

This is the first year Brian Dodson, a teacher at St. Francis, is involved with the Fembots, the all-girl robotic team. They are one of the few all-girl robotics teams in the nation. Dodson said the Fembots have participated in FRC for 12 seasons. They attend three regional competitions, Sacramento, Central Valley and Silicon Valley. This year, some 20 teams participated on practice day.

Fembot member Liz Arikawa, a junior at St. Francis said this is her second year participating. She enjoys the social aspect of it, handling public relations and working on the website.

Not all geeks

“It’s more than science and technology,” Arikawa said. “We are not all geeks and weirdos. It’s a lot of fun and everyone is so nice. It’s a great experience.”

Teri Benart is the Senior Mentor for FIRST in northern California. She said the most coveted award for these kids is the Chairman’s Award.

“It is a guaranteed ride to the championships,” Benart said. “Regardless of what the student does on the field, the award is based on how that student builds sustainability, the student’s business plan and how the student communicates first out in the community, and how the student shows gracious professionalism. That is what drives these kids to a different behavior than what you see in normal sports.”

Janet McKinley has been volunteering at St. Francis for six years. She said hosting ‘Practice Day’ is an amazing accomplishment for the Fembots. The girls build the whole field, so students can get a feel of what the competition will be like.

Bumpy field tests machines

“The robots have to stay balanced because the field has bumps,” McKinley said. “The first 15-20 seconds the robots run autonomously on their own. During that time the students can adjust it so the robot changes course.”

Jacob Clark belongs to Team 3598 and lives in the Parkway area. He is a junior at the School of Engineering and Sciences. His part involved designing the robot. This is his second season. Clark joined FRC because there wasn’t a lot to do after school. His friends encouraged him to join and said it was fun.

“I am captain of the design team. As the designer you have to stay ahead of what is being built because the end product may wind up being a little different than what was originally anticipated,” Clark said. “It is really challenging, at times it hits you like a freight train.”

Lucas Sherman, a freshman at Jim Elliot Christian School in Lodi is part of Team 1662. His dad, Mike Sherman, said his son has learned plenty after joining the team. Head coach and mentor for eight years, Tom Brey said this is the one thing on campus that everyone can become a pro.

College bound kids

“Because of robotics, kids get into colleges they couldn’t normally get into,” Brey said. “One of my previous team captains is in graduate school and the Navy is paying for it. Many of my students are accepted to University of the Pacific, Cal Poly and other good schools.”

Brey’s team is headed to Tel Aviv next week to compete against teams from Bosnia, Israel and other Arab countries. He said there is no war going on at these meets.

Ryan Neal is co-captain of team 1662 this year. He said he has always been involved in engineering.

“I decided to expand upon my learning,” Neal said. “The biggest thing I learned from this is how important it is to work well with others.”

Neal plans to attend University of the Pacific and study mechanical engineering.

As Team 1662’s robot fell over during the first practice session, no one seemed too worried. They all just went to work on making adjustments and reprogramming the robot so it would glide over the bumps the next time out. All thanks to the St. Francis Fembots and their Practice Day for all the FRC teams.

Middle school students receive well-rounded education at Didion School

Genevieve F. Didion K-8 School will present an opportunity for locals to learn more about this well established school’s middle school grades through a special open house, which is scheduled to be held in the school’s gymnasium on Jan. 18.

GENEVIEVE F. DIDION K-8 SCHOOL provides an educational environment for middle school students that yields superior results when they move on to high school. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Stephen Crowley

GENEVIEVE F. DIDION K-8 SCHOOL provides an educational environment for middle school students that yields superior results when they move on to high school. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Stephen Crowley

The event, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., will feature speeches about the middle school by Norm Policar, Didon’s principal, and the school’s middle school teachers, followed by a question and answer session at 8:30 p.m.

The speeches will center on the topic of how Didion’s middle school program provides a well-round education that prepares students for high school.

Only 62 slots available

With space for only 62 students in each middle school grade, Didion is presenting this open house in a timely manner in order to allow perspective middle school students and their parents sufficient decision-making time prior to the beginning of the district’s open enrollment period. This period begins on Jan. 30 and continues until Feb. 10.

The event is also beneficial for Didion, which has an overall student body of 630, considering that there are more vacancies in the local middle school programs than there are middle school students. As a result, local middle schools often compete for these children.

With much anticipation toward the open house, Policar sat down last week to discuss this upcoming event, his own background and details about this local school, which opened as a K-6 school at its current and only site of 6490 Harmon Drive in 1980.

Active parent community

During his interview, Policar was quick to give much credit to the parental involvement at the school.

“I’ve got such a supportive parent community that really backs what we do at school and they have high expectations for their kids,” Policar said. “So, I try to make sure that we keep those expectations high at school.”

Policar explained that the middle school itself was established through the involvement of local parents.

“(The) middle school program started (in about 1994) and it’s an outstanding program,” Policar said. “The parents actually got together to make this program happen. I think the feeling at the time was they weren’t entirely satisfied with the choices they had back then of where to send their kids on to a middle school. So, the parents, I’m told, got together and said, ‘Why can’t we make our K-6 school into a K-8 school. We can hopefully attract some good teachers to our middle school program and keep the kids here for a couple more years, give them a good education and hopefully they’ll be set to go to high school.’ And that’s exactly what (the parent group) did. They went to the (Sacramento City Unified School) District and sought permission to expand our program to become a K-8 (school) and the district loved it. And so, we’ve had a K-8 program ever since (that time).”

Top teachers

Policar additionally explained that Didion was fortunate to attract high quality teachers.

“I’ve got a wonderful staff by and large to work with, so it’s just a great mix of factors that makes it a really good place to go to work every day,” said Policar, who began his career as a history teacher.

Policar, a Vallejo native who was hired as the school’s principal on his 40th birthday in 1997, said that he could not have been more fortunate than to have become Didion’s principal.

And with Policar’s love and enthusiasm for Didion school, it was far from a laboring task for him to speak about the positive aspects of this educational institution.

Motivated principal

In listening to Policar speak about Didion’s students, it does not take long to comprehend how his caring attitude and enthusiasm can spread to others and lead to positive results in the classroom.

“I really, really enjoy being around young people,” Policar said. “I like to talk with them and work with them and I’ve got such great kids to work with at Didion. I just enjoy working with (the kids). I always have and I feel real good about it.”

Furthermore, Policar, who for the past 12 years has been married to his wife Kristi, a special education teacher at Hubert Bancroft Elementary School, believes that his own experiences as a father have helped him to further his success as a principal.

“(Being a father to his daughter, Lindsey, who is a second grader) opened my eyes up,” Policar said. “There were times when sometimes I would just almost take for granted some of the things that parents went through, the regular struggles. But when it came time for me to be a parent, and I’ve got to sit down with my own daughter in the evenings and work through school problems and homework struggles and things like that, I just have a much better feel now for what parents go through.”

And it is Policar’s connection to parenting and his understanding of the educational system – both administratively and as a teacher – that has helped the school to achieve much of its success.

A consistent faculty is yet another factor to the success of Didion.

Overall, Didion has many longtime teachers, including Dana Flaten, middle school science, Richard Howe, middle school social studies, Elett Ricks-Chambers, music specialist, Wendy Martinez, kindergarten, Martha Hawkins, 2nd grade, Cindy Vanbeek, 2nd and 3rd grades, Helen Nevins, 3rd grade, Mary Andrews, special education, Cindy Granados, 6th grade, and Andrea Noteware, 6th grade and a former librarian at the school.

Fewer electives, but positive results

Policar, who has been working for the school district since 1981, said that with the many advantages that come with operating a small school like Didion, one disadvantage is its students have fewer elective choices.

“My maximum capacity (at the middle school) is 124 kids, so with a program that small, I’m not able to offer the depth of an elective program that a great, big school that has 40 or 50 teachers can offer,” Policar said. “So, I don’t have a band and I don’t have an orchestra, I don’t have a woodshop or maybe some of those kinds of things that kids can get elsewhere. My entire middle school has five teachers. Each of my teachers teach one period of their (academic) subject and then each of them teaches one period of an elective class. So, that’s my elective program. And we have a good elective program, but kids aren’t able to pick from 20 different (electives) like they might be able to do some place else.”

In hopes of filling the available space for middle school students at Didion school, Policar emphasized that local high schools have provided much positive feedback regarding former Didion students who attended their schools.

“High schools really like our kids, because our kids go to them ready to tackle high school work, they go with good study habits and they’re sought after,” Policar said. “So, we try to send that message to our parents.”