Highlights From the 5th Annual Game Changer Awards!

“He taught me what it means to sustain good character…He taught me what a healthy relationship looks like,” said Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver for the 49ers, about his high school football coach, Richard McCroan, at the 5th Annual Game Changer Awards in early January in San Francisco.

Professional Bay Area athletes gathered at Coaching Corps’ annual ceremony to honor special coaches who helped them reach their dreams. Klay Thompson of the Warriors honored his high school basketball coach, Jerry DeBusk, for laying his path to pro basketball. Pablo Sandoval of the SF Giants honored Bruce Bochy, whom he refers to as “Dad”, for having his back when others didn’t. Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s recognized Ron Washington for turning him into a Gold Glove Finalist. Charles Woodson, Heisman Trophy Winner and Super Bowl Champion of the Oakland Raiders honored Vance Bedford for providing discipline and shaping his athleticism. And Kristine Anigwe, Cal basketball star, presented Cal Head Basketball coach, Lindsay Gottlieb, with the Coaching Corps Game Changer Award saying how Coach G taught her how to dream.

This year at the Awards, like in year’s past, Coaching Corps selected a Coaching Corps volunteer from across the country to receive the Coach of the Year Award for demonstrating exceptional dedication to the kids they coach. This year, the award went to Baltimore-based Benita Vargas Brown. Benita has spent the past two years coaching middle-school girls in volleyball at Hampstead Hill Academy in Baltimore. In that time, she has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure her girls make practice, improve their game, stay safe, and find their voices so they can go on to achieve whatever they set their minds to. One of her athletes, and a team captain, Londyn, flew across the country to present Benita with the award. As Londyn said when giving Benita the award, “Coach B., you are my coach of the year every year.”

In partnership with NBC Sports Bay Area and with the support of sponsors such as Levi’s, Blue Shield of California, and Xfinity, the Annual Coaching Corps’ Game Changer Awards puts everyday coaches front and center for having a tremendous impact on kids’ lives, particularly those living in low-income communities. Unlike their middle- and upper-income peers, kids in underserved neighborhoods don’t have the same access to sports, so they often miss a key ingredient to their growth – a sports mentor who can teach them important life skills like leadership, empathy, self-regulation and optimism.

Coaching Corps is grateful to the presenters, honorees and so many others for supporting this year’s Awards and shining a light on the importance of giving all kids, no matter their income or zip code, access to the caring sports mentors they want and deserve.

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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


Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

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JT Dorsey Foundation

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San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

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Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

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A Place Called Home


After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

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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

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Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

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Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

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Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
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All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families


Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together