From the Court to the Courtroom

Serena Limas, CSULA Chapter Leader 2016-2018, 2018 Game Changer Awards Coach of the Year

Growing up sharing a bedroom with her four sisters in a small duplex in East L.A., playing basketball was a solace for Serena—a place where she had as much space as she wanted, a place that was just hersSo, when she ruptured her ACL at the end of her high school career, she was worried she had just lost something that made up so much of who she was 

A freshman at CSU Los Angeles, Serena was grappling with losing her sport but found a new perspective when she met Coaching Corps“I had never coached, but after going to the information session, I realized that it was a great opportunity to get involved with the game again and even make a big difference, Serena recalled nearly five years after her first encounter with Coaching Corps 

Even though basketball had a huge impact on her growing up, Serena never had a coach who inspired her, no one she ever wanted to emulate. Remembering one coach, she said “It was traumatizing. If he noticed we weren’t looking, he threw the ball at us. Like… hard.” 

“The [Coaching for Character] training literally made me the coach I am today. It helped me understand the underlying issues that are going on off the court and gave me the ability to step back and see the whole picture and be more understanding of where [the players] are.” But Serena’s Coaching Corps transformation didn’t stop after training. 

After spending season after season building the basketball program at Boys and Girls Club Ramona Gardens, Serena was awarded the 2018 Coach of Year Award at Coaching Corps’ San Francisco Game Changer Awards. It was clear she was nothing like the coaches she had growing up–her empathy and dedication made for an exceptional coaching career, earning her the opportunity to give her voice to a movement.  

“Winning that award changed my life. Entirely. It was really game-changing for me. Being at that gala was the first time people had really listened to my story and it was the first time I was like ‘Wow, people really care. People care about these kids and my community.” And that inspired her to dream bigger.  

After that night, Serena coached two more seasons at Ramona Gardens, graduated from CSU Los Angeles, and began studying for the LSAT, ready to attend law school in 2021. She’s determined to continue changing the game for kids like the ones she coached all those years by getting people to change the way they think about her community and step in to give back 

“I really think that sports can be a catalyst for change and we really, really make a difference in the communityMaking sure that we’re there for them and showing up for them. If people are just trying to educate themselves and give back, this is how you can do it. 

Thank you, Serena, for your commitment to our kids on and off the courts and for your dedication to leveling the playing field. If you want to share your Coaching Corps journey and the ways you’re giving back now, let us know! Contact Steven Parker at steven.p@coachingcorps.org  

 

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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
Afterschool Partners

Orlando

Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

Afterschool Program Partners

Other

JT Dorsey Foundation

Afterschool Program Partners

San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

The Monarch School

Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

Afterschool Program Partners

Los Angeles

A Place Called Home

AFFIRMATIVE ATHLETICS

After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor

Brotherhood Crusade

City of Huntington Park Department of Parks

East Los Angeles Rising Youth Club

Equitas Academy

Girls on the Run of Los Angeles

Girls Play Los Angeles

ICES Education

IMPACTO

L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs

Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

Los Angeles Rec and Parks

Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

Sloane Stephens Foundation

Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Afterschool Program Partners

ATLANTA

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
Afterschool Program Partners

Boston

All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families

Boston SCORES

Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together