Raquel Orozco is from Mexico. She arrived in Richmond as a teenager and didn’t speak a word of English. Ten years after graduating from Richmond High, she is completing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering this year from UC Davis.
Last Sunday, Orozco, along with 11 other Latino UC Davis students, hosted over 100 Richmond United Soccer Club players, family members and friends on their campus. After brief introductions and a tour of the school, players and parents got to ask the bilingual student panel what it takes to get into college.
The campus visit was the brainchild of Gelberg Rodriguez, president of the Richmond United Soccer Club. The club is part of the Alameda Contra Costa Youth Soccer League, a non-profit dedicated to promoting youth soccer. There are 12 boys’ and 6 girls’ teams, for players from 4 and a half to 19 years old. Rodriguez said he wanted to show young Latinos that college is possible for everyone, even if a professional soccer career isn’t.
Rodriguez said Richmond kids who are good at soccer sometimes don’t think about education—they think about turning pro. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, between 1982 and 2008 approximately one in 1,250 high school senior boys playing interscholastic soccer— or about 0.07 percent of them—will eventually be drafted by a Major League Soccer team. Since so few players make it to the pro level, Rodriguez hopes to get more kids to imagine their futures off the soccer field. “The long term goal is that these kids go to four-year universities right after high school,” said Rodriguez. “The ones with the [soccer] ability and the grades can go after soccer scholarships.”
Rodriguez wants the sport to be a pipeline for all players to go to college, regardless of the individual student’s athleticism. He said playing organized soccer provides discipline and teaches the players how to follow rules—both key ingredients to being a successful college student. For players who need more incentive, Rodriguez provides afterschool tutoring and organizes campus visits like this one so players can meet inspiring Latino students.
Esperanza Martinez, of Oakland, said she brings her daughter, Itxcia, 9, all the way to Richmond to play soccer because the league encourages girls to succeed in school. Martinez mentioned the book club the team started in which players read one book a month and get together to talk about it. “We want to encourage our young girls to stay motivated and think after high school—not think high school is the end,” said Martinez. “I love that Gelberg pushes education.”
One of the guest speakers on the UC Davis trip, education Ph.D. candidate Luis Ramirez, said there weren’t enough Latinos in college and urged the students to ignore the negative things they might hear about too many people dropping out of school, or the idea that school is too expensive. There’s a lot of financial help and advice out there for people who want to go to college, he said.
When Ramirez asked the teenagers why going to college was important, he heard responses that were straight to the point: To get a job! To be somebody! To be successful! To learn! To make money! “For me, I like to see people become a better citizen, a person that cares,” Ramirez told them. “Going to college is about helping each other.”
Finally, Ramirez asked his audience who amongst the group was going to go college. After seeing only a few hands go up he shouted, “I better see everyone’s hand up—the parents, too. The success of the students depends on the success of the parents, so everyone should have their hands up.”
UC Davis geology student Marisol Juarez, of Marysville, Calif., said she is the first person in her family to go to college. She wanted to share her college experiences with the Richmond soccer players because she felt it was her responsibility to help those who were going through the same things she experienced, she said. “The biggest jump between high school and college is academic focus,” said Juarez. “In high school it’s easy to slack off and not pay attention—not in college.”
This wasn’t the first time Richmond Sol soccer player Luis Raymundo, 15, of Leadership High, visited a college campus. He said the Davis campus was one of the nicest he’s seen. “I used to not think about college but now that I see all these campuses and things we can do to become a better person in life I think I could come here and get more excited about going to college,” he said.
For Miguel Bernal, 15, of Richmond High, seeing all the support parents showed their children by bringing them to UC Davis inspired him. Bernal said one day he wants to become a brain surgeon. “What I enjoyed about today was seeing Mexican people walking on campus,” said Bernal. “Now I see a lot of possibilities about going to college.”
Rosa Walle, of Richmond, accompanied her two daughters who both play in the Richmond soccer club to UC Davis. “Today I learned that there is help out there for every child and person that wants to achieve success,” said Walle. “I really enjoyed being here today and am very proud of our Latino students that came out to help us.”
Raquel Orozco, who is now only one semester away from earning her Ph.D., said after leaving Richmond High, her first undergraduate years were spent learning how to learn. By becoming a chemical engineer and following her heart she knows her future is going to be better than if she had never gone to college. “Don’t listen to people who are negative influences, or tell you that you can’t do it or be able to make it, because it’s not true,” said Orozco. “So many people told me I couldn’t go to a four-year university because I didn’t know English, or because I didn’t have all the requirements. All Latino students have to do is believe in themselves, get their act together, prove people wrong and associate themselves with good people that will guide them.”