For the past seven years roughly 14,000 of Turlock's youth have participated in the annual Westside Ministries Summer Soccer Camp, joining community mentors to learn the basics of soccer in a three-week program at Wakefield Elementary.
An offshoot of sports camps started more than 10 years ago — soccer proved more popular than other sports like basketball and baseball — the Summer Soccer Camp has consistently attracted 200 enthusiastic soccer players each year since its inception, bringing with them a sea of spectating parents for what has become a community tradition.
“They’re very passionate about the sport and to see them have fun, and just come out for a couple of hours and play the sport and to be able to hang out with them, it’s awesome,” Westside Ministries Children's Director Sunshine, Saduka said. “It’s great to see the parents involved, too. We love to see the parents just as much as we see the kids.”
With help from organizations like Turlock Youth Soccer and with players and coaches from Turlock High, Pitman High and California State University, Stanislaus volunteering, youth from grades 2 through 9 have been afforded the opportunity to build their cardiovascular conditioning, sharpen their fundamentals and compete in scrimmages and tournaments for a balanced mix of learning and fun.
“These kids have rubbed shoulders with community members and it gives them more confidence to get involved with team sports,” Youth Director Lydio Banana said. “They’ve already met the soccer coaches and they realize there are scholarships available to them, and they probably didn’t realize they had that opportunity before.”
The camp isn't just a tradition for the youth participants, however, as many of those who run the camp have done so for years. Saduka for example, a 2010 graduate of Turlock High who played volleyball, basketball and softball before going on to play basketball and volleyball at Ventura College, has been volunteering for close to seven years.
“When I was in high school I would come and help and even when I would come home from college I would help out,” Saduka said. “It’s great. It’s cool to see how in to it they are.”
Currently in full swing, the Summer Soccer Camp wrapped up its week of conditioning and skills practice on Thursday. More skills practice and the selection of co-ed rosters for scrimmaging will take place at the beginning of week two on Monday before the inter-camp tournament begins in week three.
“It’s a way to keep them out of whatever trouble they might be in at home or in the streets. It’s another way to reach out to them,” Saduka said. “It’s just a great time being able to come out here and hang out with them, despite the heat.”
The Summer Soccer Camp will wrap up on July 2 with Westside Ministries Summer Fest, a joint celebration with the organization's Summer Dance Class at the Turlock Community Theater that will feature performances and an awards ceremony.