Amigos league a kick for local youth
Local dad Pedro Carbajal wanted to provide a way out of gang life
As community leaders and parents look for ways to keep kids out of gangs and away from violence, many are turning to Pedro Carbajal and his championship soccer team for some answers.
With little more than a bag of soccer balls and plenty of energy, Carbajal, 33, co-founded his own league, the Amigos Soccer League, in 2006. The father of five and a chef by profession, Carbajal said he is working to build discipline, and a sense of community, among his young players.
"I am trying to prevent a bigger problem," he said. "For a lot of them this all they have."
Carbajal holds soccer practices for dozens of Mountain View boys every Tuesday and Thursday at Rengstorff Park. The teams — there are four at Rengstorff alone, with a total of 72 players ranging in age from 7 to 14 — travel to San Jose to compete, since they have no official field in Mountain View.
Carbajal, who has an athletic build and warm smile, doesn't have much soccer experience himself. But through countless laps, sit-ups and push-ups, he is teaching the boys the merits of hard work: One of his teams has already won two championships.
Carbajal works with the younger players (including two of his own sons, ages 7 and 11), while Miguel Maciel coaches the older teams. A former semi-pro player from Mexico also helps coach the older players.
In between laps and scrimmages, Carbajal talks to the players about drugs, gangs and school. He is active in local youth services — including the Mountain View Whisman School District's English Learners Advisory Committee and the Mountain View Community Action League — and makes sure the players are paying attention in class. Maciel even makes his players run laps or sit out of games if they have anything below a C grade point average.
The guidance provided on the soccer field may be why players have started calling Carbajal "Don Pedro," or Uncle Pedro. This community, he said, is why they have won two championships, and why he keeps coming back.
Carbajal said that as a teenager he was easily bored, and to kill time he would play pranks on his neighbors. But these days, boredom and recklessness lead middle school-aged boys into drugs and gangs.
Last week one of his players was offered drugs at school, Carbajal said, but he was able to turn them down because of previous discussions on the soccer field.
Unlike other local leagues, there are no try-outs, and the players do not have to travel very far to practice — many live in the apartments behind Rengstorff Park, a Surenos stomping ground.
Carbajal noted that many fathers are active in their sons' practices, and help run drills, among other things.
"It is hard to get males involved in the kids' education," he said. "But here, they are involved."
The $50 league and uniform fees are unaffordable for about 30 percent of his players, Carbajal says, and to help cover the difference he has obtained some sponsorships from Peninsula Daycare Center and his employer, Guckenheimer Enterprise.
But it costs over $7,000 to run the league each year, and Carbajal is working with local schools and nonprofits to receive more funding. He sometimes pays players' fees out of his own pocket.
"Not having enough money is not a good enough reason for them not to join," Carbajal said. "If you want to play, you can play." Even so, he said, "We do need a lot. We need money, we need fields and we need equipment."
He mentioned one player whose parents recently separated, and whose father started using drugs. Without the league, he said, this player "would be devastated."
Many of his players have older siblings already involved in gangs in Mountain View, and they are easily susceptible to the gang culture. One of them "told me the only way to get out of a gang is sports or get married," Carbajal said. "He is always telling his brother to just stay here."
Those interested in joining the league are invited to show up at the Rengstorff Park soccer field on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 4 and 6 p.m.
To donate to the Amigos Soccer League, contact Pedro Carbajal at (650) 669-1871.
E-mail Casey Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org