Take Your Team to College Day – UCLA

Research from Johns Hopkins University shows America is facing a severe high school dropout crisis, with 1.2 million students dropping out each year – one every 26 seconds.  The vast majority of those kids dropping out are girls and boys from low-income communities.

Coaching Corps has never been about sports for the sake of sports. We are about the kids who need the most but have the least amount of opportunity to access it. This includes exposure to options after high school, like college. Sports are simply the vehicle we use to teach our kids the life-long lessons that will help them succeed on and off the field.

Take Your Team to College Day aims to prepare at-risk kids for academic and social success by clearly connecting them with college and career options, building relationships between youth and role model mentors and coaches from their communities, exposing them to college life and using a sports-based model to teach hard work and motivation.

On February 8th, 2013, 14 middle school students from America SCORES LA came to the UCLA campus for Coaching Corps’ UCLA Chapter’s Take Your Team to College Day.  Coaching Corps chapter leaders spent the day showcasing the athletic opportunities available at UCLA while emphasizing the importance of academic success.

The event began with a campus tour with Matias Fritz, the chapter director of Athletic Engagement, Matias Friz. The young players experienced UCLA’s remarkable athletic history by visiting the Athletic Hall of Fame, John Wooden Center and the track.

They also learned fun facts about UCLA like how the university was the first to earn 100 NCAA titles and has had so many successful athletes involved in the Olympics that if it were a country it would be in the top 10 for medals won. The last stop of the tour and the highlight of the day was Pauley Pavilion where the kids were given a private tour by the UCLA Director of Recreation Mick Deluca.

The event concluded with a panel, moderated by Coaching Corps Chapter President Cameron Hajialiakbar. On the panel were Chapter Director of Athletic Engagement Matias Friz, who explained how there are other ways to become involved in sports on campus and talked about his experience with broadcasting UCLA volleyball and soccer games; Maya Harris, a member of the UCLA Dance Team, who spoke about good habits to develop in high school that help prepare for college; Warren Hardie, a UCLA tennis player who was recruited by the school gave examples of how time management is key to maintaining balance when being a student athlete; and Kola Awe, a Gates Millennium scholar and walk-on UCLA football player, spoke about how his passion and ambition has gotten him where he is.

“Our panel discussion exposed the kids to career opportunities that would allow them to stay involved with sports even if they do not go on to become professional athletes,” said Cameron.  “They were excited and eager to ask questions and this is the most successful Coaching Corps’ event at UCLA thus far. It will serve as a standard for future events on campus as we strive to continue to raise the bar.”

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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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Gompers Preparatory Academy

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A Place Called Home


After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

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Girls Play Los Angeles

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Boston Centers for Youth & Families


Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together