This is the first of hopefully a many-part series on #soccermakers: people doing interesting and important work, making things, leading worthwhile organizations or non-profits, creating content and telling stories about The Beautiful Game.
(If there's someone we should spread the word about out, tell us!)
To start, we reach back to one of our favorites- in fact, arguably the first Soccer Changemaker we met as fcearth, back in 2008. Mike Herman launched Compton United in 2006 (it was featured on FSC in 2009) and has been leading an organization with a dual focus on the sport and developing (and graduating) student athletes. He's always taken time to share his stories with us (like when we shared his take on mentorship two years ago) and we'd love to shine a little bit of light on his incredible work.
When did you start Compton United and what was your original vision or motivation for it?
We created Compton United Soccer Club to fill the void of quality, sanctioned youth soccer programs here. There was a lot of soccer in the city (and talent), but no programs to take advantage of the future opportunities that the sport offered. These were only unaffiliated, profit-motivated leagues. I believe that opportunities such as these shouldn’t be denied to someone simply because of where they live.
The catalyst for all of this was Ramiro. He was 5 when we moved here, and we got to know his family very well. In fact they became family (and still are). Ramiro was an extraordinary soccer player. He excelled all the way through high school, on the field and in the classroom. He was accepted academically to several different universities, but really wanted to continue to play soccer. His school and coach did nothing to help their players get to the next level—more than likely they had no real university contacts.
I saw this and became frustrated as to why the urban Latino (some African-American) players who had incredible talent were essentially locked out of the college recruiting and US Soccer system. I started asking a lot of questions. I learned players, especially in Southern California, need to play with a club to have access to these offerings. I also found out that the clubs were only in the suburbs, because families there had the resources needed to travel and pay coaches and trainers. I believed that Compton could have a world-class soccer club and facility, produce some top-notch talent, and become a model that for American urban soccer.
So after a year of searching for someone to do this, I finally started it myself.
What has been the highlight for you in running the club- visiting the Whitehouse, etc.?
The highlights have really been seeing the positive change in the players lives. For example, Luis started with us at around age 12. He was a hot-tempered, loud-mouthed player with a lot of skill but was a horrible teammate. He was doing poorly in school and his parents were struggling with him. Through the influence of the club and the emphasis of being a leader on and off the field, we began to see changes. After some time he became a team captain, turned around his grades as well as his attitude, and made an effort at home. He really excelled in our leadership development program where we had pro players from the Galaxy and Chivas USA come and mentor a select group. He really bonded with two Chivas players. Their mentoring was a very significant part of his turn-around and ability to now play in college.
What has been the most rewarding aspect, or even moment, of running Compton United?
I’d say the same thing, seeing positive change in the player’s lives. We cared about soccer, of course, but we cared even more about how they were growing up and who they we growing up to be.
Also, I’m proud of our 100% high school graduation rate within a district that averages a 68% graduation rate.
What has been the most challenging aspect of running and growing your club and attaining such successes as a 100% graduation rate?
By far, the most difficult thing has been a lack of a home field or place to practice. We have been working on this issue since our start in 2006, and it became more and more frustrating as time passed.
Since then, we have had almost 2 million dollars in soccer facility projects slip through our fingers for a number of reasons; primarily people seeing soccer as a nuisance and apathetic city and school officials. Compton is now approaching 70% Latino, and there still is not one soccer field in the city. We have practiced mostly in our local city parks where the fields are horrible, full of gopher holes, a lack of lighting, etc.
What have you noticed about the change and growth of soccer in this country? Has it directly helped Compton United?
David Beckham really helped us in this! Soccer has always been significant in our neighborhood, but as Beckham came to LA, more Angelinos were introduced to the sport. I then saw increased interest in the club from within the city, as well as other communities.
You mentioned that your most recent class has now finished high school. What are the next steps for you and for the club?
We are struggling. I have not taken on or started new teams due to the lack of a facility. So we have no teams right now. When the time is right we will start a new group of younger teams and focus on recreational soccer with a heavy mentoring aspect and see if it naturally progresses to club soccer. Most of our older guys are now in college and I have focused on them for the last two years. I really need a Spanish-speaker, preferably with at least some college soccer experience to step in and lead this new CU era. I know the potential is still huge with many more “Luis’” and “Ramiros’” that need this program, It is very frustrating seeing nothing happen at this point.
Are you going to Brazil this summer for the World Cup?
I WISH! Our club guys wanted to go, and I contemplated it. But I’m still gun shy about our failed trip to the last World Cup in South Africa. Our players worked hard, and we raised all the money needed apart from the airfare. Then as time continued, airfare went through the roof, and we couldn’t raise the rest. We lost a bunch of money in non-refundable deposits.
But I’d give almost anything for that to happen.