On a gorgeous sunny, spring, Saturday morning in Richland, Washington, the call goes out, “Everybody in here!” One-by-one a group of seven 1st and 2nd grade students cluster together, putting one hand on top of another. “Families in here too!” On cue, all parents, relatives, and siblings put one hand in the center as well, hand on top of hand, together. “Okay, Chargers, on 3! 1…2…3…”
3 months earlier.
Mr. Manny Medrano, a para-educator and teacher at Nueva Esperanza Leadership Academy (NELA) came to me with an idea in the form of a question: “What if we had a competitive sports team for our students?” Manny had noticed that a number of students were gifted athletically and they loved to play sports together, especially football. I made a call to a flag football league in the nearby Tri-Cities, who agreed to let us put a school team together with one condition: although our team would include 1st and 2nd graders, we would have to play in a 2nd grade league. After talking with parents and students in the K-2 class at NELA, a team of seven emerged (4 of which were first grade students).
What started as a great idea for students to use their gifts, turned out to be so much more.
Coach Medrano, having never coached flag football before, worked hard to learn the rules. Watching several hours’ worth of video, and even meeting with an experienced coach, he started the season with high hopes. However, as the NELA team started their first game, he and I wondered if we had gotten in over our heads. The opposing Broncos scored a touchdown on their first play and, when the NELA Chargers got the ball, the Broncos would not let them even gain a yard. Our students looked a bit shocked and discouraged. However, on the Chargers’ third play, 1st grader Esteban would take the ball all the way down the field on a touchdown run. And, although the Chargers would lose this game as well as the next two, they were having great fun, improving, and really coming together as a team.
Meanwhile, over the course of the season, we could see NELA parents and staff really coming together because of this team. The Chargers were often discussed at school, and several staff members came out to support the team on the weekends. Parents also came together in celebration and support, sitting with the NELA staff to root the team on. The Chargers’ positive impact even carried over into the community youth program, with our Youth Coordinator, Melissa Wisner, driving a “rooter bus” into town for a game. The youth created signs for each player that they were able to take home after the game (which was a huge blessing to them). That day we also bought pizza and all of the NELA Charger families and community youth ate together. You can imagine how special these players felt bringing the community together because of them.
After the NELA Chargers lost their first three games, they won their next three games, beating two of the best teams in the league. But these Chargers were doing much more than winning games, they were bringing our community together. Although they lost their final game, they won for us. And after that last game, as coach Medrano brought players and families out to mid-field, he said, “Okay, Chargers, on 3! 1…2…3…” and we all yelled “Chargers!”
written by Eric Sobotta, school principal