Soccer…little kids…Saturday mornings…what could be better? For Chanel Fuchigami, our Student Ministry Coordinator for Open Door Soccer League, and her tutors – not much! Open Door Soccer League (ODSL) is a an incredible avenue for promoting cross-cultural relationships and reciprocal learning between the youth of Azusa and APU students through the game of soccer. The children also learn important life lessons in teamwork through mentorship and coaching. Students also have an opportunity to take children to L.A. Galaxy games through the Kicks for Kids program. A growing partnership with the Church of the Open Door and APU allows students to participate in coaching kids throughout the year.
Here’s a true underdog story about one team in particular, and by the end of it, I’m sure you’ll be shouting “Go Lightening Fireballs!!” just as I was!
“Parents, siblings and grandparents populate the sidelines as they cheer on the Lightning Fireballs in their bright purple uniforms. It’s the seventh week of the 8 week season and their fan base has not depleted despite their winless season so far. Freshman coaches, Nick, Kyle and Nicole pump up the team for the game and have learned from the kids what it means to remain hopeful as they take the field once again. At 10 am Saturday mornings, half a block behind the sleeping APU campus, Powell Elementary is alive with over 100 kids and their families. The Open Door Soccer League (O.D.S.L.) is a ministry of Church of the Open Door and is it its fifth season. There is no youth soccer league run through the city of Azusa and O.D.S.L. provides the families of Azusa with an affordable league in the city that does not require a minimum ability to be a part of a team. Each of the 12 teams are coached by APU student volunteers, or members of the church who have dedicated their time to investing in kids’ lives through soccer. The referees are also APU students who are able to use their experience with soccer to be part of a ministry that needs their unique talents.
The Lightning Fireballs fought hard and battled against not having any substitutes, but came up short again and went home with another loss. Five days later all the teams had their last practice on Thursday and prepared for their final games. On Saturday the Lightning Fireballs came to the field for their 10 ‘oclock game against the Ghostbusters and they warmed up for their final chance at victory.
The Lightning Fireballs and Ghostbusters are in the 6-8 year old age bracket, but the league has two others, 9-12 and 4-5. The 9-12 year olds understand that a soccer line up consists of positions with defenders, strikers and keepers. The 4 and 5 year olds have a hard enough time remembering which goal is theirs, what the whistle means, or that bunch ball may not be the most efficient strategy. The 4 year old girls display true sportsmanship as they hold hands with the opposing team and pick flowers for each other during the game. Whether it’s the entertainment of the 4 and 5 year olds, or the nail-biting soccer that the 9-12 year olds play each week, the heart of the ministry is to build relationships and that is apparent as each of the coaches interact with their players. I’ve seen children in tears of frustration after the game leave with a smile after the listening ear of a coach sitting by their side. Each week at the end of practice the teams spend time sitting down together, sharing life, getting to know each other and the coaches share a bible story. At the end of the season after getting their trophies and pictures, a Gospel presentation is given to the kids and families.
As the families cheer on the Lightning Fireballs, it occurs to them they have outscored the other team and if they can hold on, may walk away with a victory. It is not the story book endings, or the quality of soccer being played, but the unique way that being a part of a team is used as a tool for loving others that makes me believe in this ministry. It combines sports with a reason to play. It enables those who have a passion for using their gifts for the Kingdom of God an avenue to creatively put them to use and values the athletic experience they may have had growing up.
But you guessed it! The Lightning Fireballs did win the last game of the season! The kids and parents were over joyed, and left with so much more than soccer skills that year. I still hear the kids talk about their season that they didn’t win until the last game and others who ask about their coaches and come to practice skipping and smiling blabbering on about their day at school.
These are the images that characterize O.D.S.L. and will continue to as students put their own agenda aside and remember that life does not only consist of 18-22 year olds”
Ministry and Service exists to educate and mobilize the APU undergraduate community toward an active response in service that advances the work of God in the world. Azusa Pacific University sponsors a plethora of local and global programs, which prepare students to become capable leaders of service in diverse settings. To stay connected with what is happening in the local community, “like us” on Facebook (Ministry and Service) or “follow us” on Twitter (@apumas). Every year, over 1250 students serve through City Links, over 500 students participate in on-going ministry, and Justice Week.