Fourth- through eighth-graders from different schools and different towns – towns where gang life is a reality – gather on a patch of turf.
It’s a situation that traditionally is rife with volatility.
But the only turf wars taking place on this day involved a rectangular pitch with nets at both ends.
The combatants were “Portugal” and “Argentina,” squaring off in Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, the culmination of the Buena Park-Fullerton OC Grip Spring Break Soccer Camp.
The three-day camp involved about 60 OC GRIP kids from Buena Park and Fullerton schools who were educated on soccer and life by coaches, mentors and role models.
The soccer camp has been taking place for OC GRIP youngsters in Buena Park since 2011 and expanded to included OC GRIP students from Fullerton in 2016.
An acronym for the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, OC GRIP aims to keep kids away from criminal street gangs by focusing on academics, attitude and attendance.
Incentives such as the three-day soccer camp are a key component of OC GRIP, which is administered by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Buena Park and Fullerton police departments and Orange County Probation. The camp is jointly sponsored by Cal State Fullerton, the University Police Department and The Way Church in Buena Park.
“This is a great opportunity for them to teach them something new,” said Deputy District Attorney Shannon Back, who oversees OC GRIP in Buena Park. “One of the things they have been taught through learning soccer is that it is a thinking sport. They were really encouraged to think smartly, use their brain, make good choices, have good sportsmanship and have a positive attitude.”
The youngsters were divided into eight teams, purposely intermixing kids from rival neighborhoods and schools on the same teams, with police and probation officers serving as coaches.
“It’s about students from traditional rival gang cities coming together and playing soccer, which is a common denominator for both of them,” said Daniel Arreguin, an OC probation officer and main organizer of the camp. “They are getting along. It’s real cool. What is just as important is the law enforcement presence (with officers) talking to these kids just as normal adults and not in uniform.”
Soccer instruction took place in the morning and the afternoons were devoted to character- building sessions.
Pro boxer Christian “Chimpa” Gonzalez, a 2013 Buena Park High School graduate, talked to the kids about the hard work and dedication needed to achieve dreams.
“That had a huge impact,” said Deputy District Attorney Tamika Williams, who oversees OC GRIP in Fullerton. “He went to Buena Park (High). Just to have that real-life example right in front of them was important.”
The kids also heard positive messages from pro soccer players Beto Navarro and Ami Pineda from Orange County SC, saw SWAT, motor and K9 demonstrations and received a tour of the Cal State Fullerton campus.
Organizations making in-kind and monetary donations included Cal State Fullerton, the Buena Park and Fullerton police officers associations, the Fullerton Police Athletics League, Caran Precision Engineering, the Buena Park Education Foundation, McDonalds in Fullerton, The Way Church, OC United, FC Premier, a Cypress bases soccer club, Coerver, a soccer coaching program and Knotts Berry Farm who generously donates park admission tickets for participating students each year.