While soccer fans around the world are cheering on their favorite teams in the World Cup this week, some of Turlock’s smallest athletes had the chance to hone their skills thanks to Westside Ministries’ annual soccer camp.
Over 100 children in grades 3-9 made it out to Wakefield Elementary School from June 11-21 for the four-day-a-week camp, participating in conditioning and running drills, learning the fundamentals of the sport and competing against each other in a round robin tournament — all while learning how to be a good teammate.
“One of our main goals is to be a safe place where kids are able to come and have fun,” Westside Ministries Communications Director Sunshine Sakuda said. “We also tie in making sure they know they have to be good sports and have good attitudes. There’s no pouting, and if you instill that in them while they’re young, that’s something they can bring to a team when they’re older.”
Westside Ministries has been hosting a sports camp for over 20 years but switched to a soccer-themed camp eight years ago. Sakuda said that the organization found the soccer week of their sports camp typically attracted the most participants, so Westside decided to make the switch.
“We realized the population we were working with…they just love soccer,” she said.
During last year’s camp a unique population was added into the mix with the participation of around 10 refugee children, all of whom vehemently requested that the organization provide a chance to learn about basketball and football as well. To include the other two sports as a choice for camp participants, this year’s third week of the camp — which will run for three days June 25-27 — will allow the kids to pick between basketball and football for the camp’s final three days.
“The refugee children had this obsession with American football and basketball. It was awesome,” Sakuda said. “When we were talking about how we could fit that in the schedule for them this year we decided to give them the choice for the final three days.”
Many of the children served by Westside experience difficult family situations at home and are a target for local gang recruitment, making this month’s camp all the more important, Sakuda said.
“With all the gang-related deaths and crime lately in our neighborhood, if we can get them away from that for just two hours and give them something physical to do that isn’t their phone, TV or social media, that’s just another vessel we can use to help them,” she said.
The soccer camp has served as an outlet for countless children over the years, even introducing some to the game for the first time and igniting a lifelong passion. Sakuda began helping out with the camp when she was a freshman at Turlock High School, and now, one of the first children she taught to play the game competes on the Bulldog soccer team.
“If they’re into the sport, this is an aid to get them to continue in that sport into junior high school, high school and beyond,” Sakuda said. “We want to give them the opportunity to play and try new sports, and if they like them, we want to be there to support them along the way.”
There are still spots available for the camp’s last week, which will feature a choice of football or basketball. Those interested in participating can sign up at the Westside Ministries office (952 Columbia Ave.) or at Wakefield Elementary (400 South Ave.) on the day of camp, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. June 25-27.