Even as the fourth- through eighth-graders enthusiastically asked questions of Orange County Blues FC’s soccer team members, it was clear what the Fullerton and Buena Park students actually wanted to do: kick the ball past the players at the net.
They got their chance at the end of the team’s presentation and enjoyed kicking at their soccer role models.
“They really get into it,” said Shannon Back, a deputy district attorney with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office assigned to the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP) unit, as she watched the children during GRIP’s soccer camp hosted at Cal State Fullerton March 28-30.
GRIP’s mission is to keep kids in school and away from criminal street gangs by focusing on academics, attitude and attendance, and offering incentives like the soccer camp to build character and keep them on the right track.
The OC Blues presentation March 29 was part of GRIP’s larger three-day coordinated soccer camp event at Cal State Fullerton and Robert M. Pyles Elementary in Stanton.
At both events, police officers and volunteers coached and played soccer alongside the students to encourage student interaction with law enforcement as well as each other (Buena Park and Fullerton are known to have rival criminal gangs). The morning soccer games were followed by afternoon educational presentations.
At the Cal State Fullerton soccer camp, special guests included Buena Park and Fullerton Police Department SWAT, Fullerton PD’s CSI, and BPPD and FPD K9 units. Students were able to check out SWAT vests and unloaded weapons. And they enjoyed watching FPD’s Officer Scott Flynn show them what his partner, Belgian Malinois Jax, does as a police dog. He said the presentation allowed the students to see police dogs as nice rather than intimidating.
“It allows us to get up close in a different light,” he said.
The Fullerton soccer camp was an impressive joint effort between the OCDA, OC GRIP, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Fullerton Police Chief Dennis Demaio, Orange County Probation Chief Steve Sentman, Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez, Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, and The Way Fellowship Church in Buena Park – all with the goal of keeping the students out of gangs.
“These [kids]will remember these moments and choose right from wrong,” said GRIP Head Coach Danny Arreguin, who is a deputy probation officer working in the gang unit at Orange County Probation. Arreguin, who plays soccer three to four times a week, developed the drills and plays for the soccer camp.
The Way Fellowship Church’s Pastor Don Harbert was onsite at the Fullerton soccer camp with his wife, Vicki, helping out where needed.
“We’ve been part of GRIP since day one,” said Don of his church’s involvement with the group.
The couple commented on how the group and events like soccer camp expose the students to new experiences and opportunities – including a campus tour at Cal State Fullerton.
Added Vicki Harbert, “Then the friendships with the police officers … they see that they’re real people.”
Don Harbert recalled a GRIP summer camp when they took students to the beach and what a treat that was for the children.
“We had a kid that had never been to the beach in his life,” he said. “He did not want to get out of the water.”
Back, the deputy DA who transferred to the GRIP team last October, said it was great to see the kids interact with each other during the soccer camp.
Back recalled overhearing a conversation between young female participants.
“They were talking about how they wanted to go to college,” Back said. “This (CSF) had been the first college they had been to, and they were amazed at the gym and the stadium.
“They said they wanted to start college right now. It’s really nice to see they got something out of this experience and that they now have something to work toward.”
Staff writer Greg Hardesty contributed to this story.