Hidden in Hawthorne

Hidden in Hawthorne

Tucked in the heart of Hawthorne on what use to be broken down tennis courts filled with sketchy neighborhood characters, is a new futsal facility built by Chevrolet FC. And once a week, you will find, Sergeant Chris Cognac, a self-proclaimed “Hockey Dad” of the Hawthorne police department running a free futsal program for local youth. In Chris’s own words, “I wanted to provide something that could build trust, character, and pride for these kids.” Each week 20-30 kids come to play and enjoy the beautiful game of soccer.

The courts were built in March and since May, local teenagers have shown up once a week to play. During the summer all three courts were packed with players. Since school started about 20-25 kids show up consistently. Score Sports has provided the uniforms, and Chris provides the structure. Another mentor for this program is Ashtin, who works for the CSI division of Hawthorne Police and played at the University of West Virginia and played youth soccer for Slammers. A local photographer, Marv, comes out and documents the fun. The players can look at their pictures online. The

LA Galaxy also is supporter, and provides periodic coaching sessions for the players and occasional camp opportunities for a few players. One of their own, Gyasi Zardes made it to the LA Galaxy from Hawthorne, but how many other players are we missing?

The kids have to show up on time in order to play, they have to keep high grades and display sportsmanship. Across the States, many schools and clubs are looking into implementing a school communication log to better build a bridge between teachers and parents. Fighting or disrespect is not allowed. If they don’t show up with their uniforms, they have to clean the courts at the end. These great character-building traits are not lacking, the one thing that they lack, is access to “club” soccer on a regular basis. And why is that? MONEY….


Meet Johanna Perez Palacios, who is usually the only girl on the court. She is a senior at Leuzinger high school, where she plays forward. She attends futsal, “because I love the game, I like learning from the boys, and it has taught me confidence.” When speaking about her favorite class in school, physics tops her list. Career-wise she would like to be a pediatrician or a special education teacher, and she has dreams of playing college soccer, but at this rate, the exposure she needs comes with too heavy of a price.

In talking with Chris, we both agreed that the youth soccer model is broken. “They, the powers of soccer, are missing the roots of where it is at. It is the money factor that forces parents to chose between paying rent or paying for soccer. There is no choice.” Just as he completes this sentence, Chris yells out to the players, “Good sportsmanship” as a player can be seen helping another player off the ground after a collision.

Meet Rene Ortez, from Hawthorne High school. He’s a sophomore, who plays with flair and the biggest smile you will see out there. He is polite and shakes my hand and looks me in the eye when I arrive. Rene, comes to play for the love of the sport, the forward is visibly a leader of these young people. He commands respect by his play, and is a genuine soul. He has aspirations of playing in college, and has been to a LA Galaxy camp, but doesn’t currently plan on any club team. As a soccer coach, I can say he has talent, but better yet as a person he shows leadership, and character. The challenge for Rene is to get seen by the right “set “ of eyes. But if he remains hidden in Hawthorne, will that chance ever come?

Rene (left) and Kevin (right)

Rene (left) and Kevin (right)

Meet Kevin Torres, a quiet young man. The first time I observed the futsal program, Kevin picked me to play on his team. He too, looks you in the eye and shakes your hand when you arrive. Kevin calls himself a striker or center mid, but because of circumstances at home he can’t play for his high school team, at Lloyde high school. His main reasons for being in the program are to get out of the house, hang with his friends and for the love of the sport. He wants to be a Massage or Physical Therapist.

These players have goals, and they have a caring adult in Officer Chris to help keep them focused one night a week, but is it enough? How can youth soccer help tap into the inner cities better where hundreds of thousands of kids are missing out on getting exposure that could help get them to college? One key is to not “use” these kids just for the clubs’ motives of winning, which I see a lot of… The overriding question remains is how can clubs or coaches truly create a sustainable model of access to play for lower income kids? How can the kids have a better fighting chance within our pay to play model?

One thing for sure, they are learning great life skills from Chris; learning trust, confidence, pride and sportsmanship. They are getting exercise, making friendships but what else could they accomplish long term if they didn’t stay hidden in Hawthorne?


  • comment-avatar

    I was born an raised in Hawthorne, graduated as a cougar and so happy to see this happening.

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    Grant Nadell 4 years

    Very nice article. Being from the largest inner city myself, New York City, and having attended programs at the YMCA Club of New York for years as an after school activity until my Mom returned home from work. I understand how important it is to have community programs like this. It keeps kids from spending time with the wrong type of people that will inevitably lead them down darker paths, it helps to engage the body, mind, and spirit in competition and sportsmanship, and it provides a great outlet for the frustrations that can build up over the course of the week from internal and family strife that may be taking place outside of anyone else’s purvue. I think it’s great that the author took an interest in this particular program and wrote about it. It also makes me wonder why club soccer isn’t doing more to create long-term sustainable programs to engage the lowest income individuals in our areas. When you look at other sports that engage inner city youth like basketball and football, two of the most successful and lucrative sports in the United States, from the perspective of both player and owner incomes, as well as, take into account the lackluster results of the US Men’s team. I start to think there is a natural fit for a soccer program in these scenarios. When you look at soccer programs across the world and the kids competing, you realize the reason so many countries are so far ahead of the US is because those countries players come from some of the poorest circumstances possible. Soccer was a way out of poverty for them, which is one of the reasons they worked so hard and spent so much time practicing. Even in today’s US club soccer programs, many have scholarships that don’t need them and the ones that do can’t always find ways to ship their kids hours each day to attend practices. I suggest that the local Club Soccer programs all get together and put up the money to initiate inner city team programs, and here is the catch, in the inner cities. Providing scholarships alone isn’t good enough as many can’t get their children to practice because of the proximity. Perhaps a league made up of only inner city associated club teams would draw some of the tremendous athletes away from basketball and football and into soccer providing a platform for growth, development, and most importantly, access and visibility to the college and professional soccer ranks. I know if there was a program like that and I was a college coach. I would certainly check out the caliber of players in such a program each year to see if anyone fits the bill. Often times in life, those that face the most significant adversity are those that are best prepared for professional sports. Not unlike heating and cooling tempers the strongest steel. The turbulent and tumultous conditions of the inner city can create the toughest individuals.

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      Wow what a great comment Grant. Thank you for taking the time to articulate your thoughts. I agree 100% that youth clubs should do more to enable youth players access to the game regardless of their parents’ financial capacity. I’d like to see our professional leagues take the lead on this and look to support the youth in their own local towns. MLS is all about downtown stadiums, and it should be mandatory to include some sort of low income accessibility in those neighborhoods.

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      Chris Cognac 4 years

      Funny you say that…..:)

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