Shouts of “GOOOOOAL!” rang out at the Westside Boys & Girls Club as Paris Saint-Germain beat Arsenal 2-1 in a thrilling league game.
No, these club members weren’t watching a Champions League match on television (this year, those teams are in different groups) — but were instead playing in their own league.
“I’ve never felt so happy,” said 12-year-old William, a player on the victorious Paris Saint-Germain team.
You would think his team had just won the Champions League.
For these youngsters playing in the new Soccer League of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach, they might as well have — considering all the joy and happiness it brought them.
“This was an amazing game for players on both sides,” said Shareif Shelton, soccer coach and staff member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach.
After the thrill of that game had subsided, Shelton made a pitch for more soccer balls as part of the Press-Telegram’s sixth annual Let’s Play Ball campaign. The P-T, along with its sister paper, the Grunion Gazette, is asking readers to donate new balls and money for the clubs’ sports, fitness and recreation programs.
The goal is to provide 3,000 balls by the campaign’s deadline of Dec. 15. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach annually serves more than 2,500 youngsters from ages 6 to 18 across 13 sites in neighborhoods in the western, northern and central areas of the city.
Besides soccer balls, the clubs also need a variety of other balls and equipment: basketballs, footballs, baseballs, dodgeballs, volleyballs, kickballs, tether balls, tennis balls — and even items that aren’t balls at all. The latter group includes hockey pucks used in indoor field hockey, badminton birdies, flag football flags, jump ropes, Frisbees and ball bumps.
The Press-Telegram this week is featuring soccer, which is played at all of the club sites.
“Our kids absolutely love soccer,” said Kari Cho, vice president of development and marketing for the Long Beach clubs.
Don Rodriguez, CEO for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach, said soccer was “a special sport that fosters teamwork, resilience and joy.”
“We are grateful for donations of soccer balls,” he said, “that help our kids play and create cherished memories.”
The B&G Soccer League consists of four teams, including boys and girls — all named after historic European clubs: Paris Saint-Germain (France), Arsenal (England) Inter Milan (Italy) and Bayern (Germany). They play on the mini-pitch at the Westside/Fairfield Club.
“We have a great need for a lot of soccer balls,” Shelton said. “The balls get lost or just wear out. Besides our league, members play soccer in our sports and recreation programs and just for fun, so balls get worn out quickly.”
Shelton grew up in Arkansas, where his favorite sports in elementary school were basketball and football.
“I was introduced to soccer in high school and fell in love with it,” he said. “I have stuck with it ever since.”
He moved to Long Beach and is finishing a degree in film at Long Beach City College. He eventually wants to be a movie director. In the meantime, he is working at the Boys & Girls Clubs as a coach and counselor.
“I enjoy soccer, but my job isn’t just about the sport,” Shelton said. “I use my time with these amazing kids to support and mentor them.”
He said he talks to the kids about teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership.
“We talk about how their behavior and character matter just as much off the field as it does on,” he said. “We talk about using soccer as a way to channel their energy to turn a bad day into a good day.
“I talk with them because it gives them a pipeline to get out of any bad situations at home,” Shelton added. “I do this because they are picking up a ball instead of drugs. If they have depression, anxiety or anger, they can pick up a sports ball and express themselves that way instead of making bad decisions.”
That’s why the clubs and the kids appreciate the generosity of P-T readers.
During our campaign last year, we were especially pleased by this reaction from 7-year-old Jonathan who said: “Mr. Rodriguez brought us some new soccer balls and basketballs. I was so excited to play with my friends. People are so nice. I can’t believe that they just gave those balls to us.”
There are two ways you can get new balls to the Boys & Girls Clubs: by dropping them off in person at various locations listed below or by using your credit card online.
Here are the locations where new sports balls may be dropped off:
- Big 5 Sporting Goods: 4780 Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, and 5247 Lakewood Blvd., Lakewood, during store hours. Big 5 will once again provide 25% off any regularly priced sports ball people buy to donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs.
- The Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach main office, 3635 Long Beach Blvd., from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.
- First Bank: 4040 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, and 5195 Lakewood Blvd., Lakewood.
- Phil Trani’s Restaurant, 3490 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach.
- Boathouse of the Bay Restaurant, 190 N. Marina Drive, Long Beach.
If you want to donate money or purchase balls or other items off the clubs’ Amazon wish list, click on bgclub.org/Joy. For more information, email Cho at email@example.com, or call 562-595-5945.
Thank you in advance for helping kids like William and Jonathan and for making a difference in their lives — and hundreds of other youngsters this holiday season.