El Cajon Police Officers Association go for the goal with Braves’ boys soccer team as part of fundraiser

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The El Cajon Valley High School boys soccer team spent Saturday morning, Dec. 22, 2018, in a shootout with the El Cajon Police Officers’ Association (ECPOA) – it was a soccer shootout and part of a fundraiser for the team, and it did as much to prove that El Cajon is rising to meet changes in the community as it proved that the Braves will do anything to spend a little more time on the soccer pitch.

Head coach Antonio Lavenant said, despite the tough 2-1 defeat the Braves took from Santana the night before, the guys seemed excited to get back on the field.

The El Cajon Valley High School boys soccer team spent Saturday morning, Dec. 22, 2018, in a shootout with the El Cajon Police Officers’ Association (ECPOA) – it was a soccer shootout and part of a fundraiser for the team, and it did as much to prove that El Cajon is rising to meet changes in the community as it proved that the Braves will do anything to spend a little more time on the soccer pitch.

Head coach Antonio Lavenant said, despite the tough 2-1 defeat the Braves took from Santana the night before, the guys seemed excited to get back on the field.

“This is their school and the sport that they love, and they’ll wake up any day if it’s with the ball,” he said. “That’s what special about this. Soccer is what they love. We could have done a bake sale, but here we are doing a penalty kick off.”

The Braves are 6-4-2 with conference play beginning Jan. 9 against Mount Miguel.

Although this is the first time the ECPOA has participated in a kick-off with the team, it is not the first time they have donated. Travis Howard, president of the organization, said the ECPOA has supported the team for several years, donating gear and equipment, like the Braves’ tent on the side of the field.

“We’re super proud of them that they won CIF and even State a couple years ago,” said Howard, who made a few goal attempts himself. “We’re so proud and so supportive.”

This year, Howard said, they decided to contribute a little differently

“Most of our money we give to charities and community groups, such as the El Cajon Valley soccer team,” he said. “Our typical donation is $250 and on top of that, we agreed to give them $10 for every kick that they blocked.”

Taking turns in the goalie box, laughing and joking with each other and with the officers, the Braves managed to block 25 kicks – at least, that is the official count – so they will receive another $250 from the ECPOA.

Howard said this was a good opportunity to interface with young people in the community, something they are not always given the chance to do. Lavenant said he recognized the potential for building bridges when he organized the shootout.

“It builds a strong sense of community,” he said. “And like one of the officers said, the El Cajon community has changed over the last ten years and you look at our team and you look at the new El Cajon demographic – there are kids from everywhere now, there are people from everywhere. And for them to reach out to us, and us to them, it builds a sense of community, not only in the kids but in the adults, in the parents, in the school.”

Indeed, the Braves certainly do reflect the myriad of immigrant communities that have come to share one neighborhood. A veritable United Nations, the soccer team boasts players from seven different foreign countries: Congo, Uganda, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Mexico.

Lavenant said the transition for many immigrant kids into American high schools is difficult – it can be difficult even for kids who are not facing the cultural and social learning curves of living in a brand new place. Putting on a soccer jersey, he said, helps give them a shared identity.

“These kids, they all walk here [to school] – it’s their backyard. They’re seen not only by the school but by the community as they’re on their scooters or their bicycles, and they know, ‘oh, that’s an El Cajon Valley kid,’” said Lavenant. “They have a sense of pride and they are able to socially cope more because they wear a uniform.”

For Victor Bolanos, one of the team’s goalkeepers, that is true.

“We’re a team that likes to joke around and have fun, but at the end of the day we’re all brothers,” he said. “We share the same shirt and the same locker room.”

Bolanos said the fundraiser with the officers was especially eye-opening for him.

“To be able to come out and have fun with our police officers was a great experience,” he said. “Coming from a school of mixed races, we sometimes feel like some police officers may not be fair with us due to our race, but in reality, there are cops out there that are great people – not just because they have a uniform… At the end of the day, we’re all human beings. I think people should recognize that there are cops out there that are great human beings.”

The boys in red continued dribbling the ball between them after the last shot had been made – and blocked – the officers joked about how much easier the shootout would have been if they had not been wearing steel toed boots or sporting pulled muscles. Shaking hands and posing for pictures, the Braves and the brave members of the ECPOA left the field just as the sun started to break the chill of the winter morning.

“Maybe,” said Lavenant as his boys chattered in the background, “one of them becomes a police officer in the community they got put into.”

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