On a gloomy October afternoon, raindrops were falling on the sports field at John W. Mack Elementary, located a few blocks northeast of the University Park Campus. But that didn’t stop dozens of 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders enrolled in After School Sports Connection (ASSC) from gleefully chasing a bright purple soccer ball.
“Over here! Over here!” the children screamed as they ran through the light mist. Their coach, USC freshman business administration major Veronica Black, dribbled the ball toward the two pine trees that marked the goal.
Funded through a partnership between the USC Neighborhood Outreach Program and the university’s Recreational Sports department, ASSC provides athletic instruction to more than 1,200 local children each year at eight neighborhood elementary schools.
For eight weeks each semester, USC students coach soccer, basketball, volleyball, martial arts, tennis and swimming — promoting a healthy lifestyle while helping children have fun in a safe, supervised environment.
At the end of each semester, USC invites the children and their families to campus for a sports day. Summer swimming sessions are also offered.
This year, USC students have taken on a bigger role in overseeing the program, with undergraduates Lauren Cronk and Wiley Strahan serving as co-directors. The two have done everything from hiring USC student coaches to coordinating with the schools.
“I decided to offer the positions to USC students to develop their leadership and managerial skills,” said Arvin Varma, associate director of Recreational Sports. “Wiley and Lauren have been phenomenal, so I have given them a lot more decision-making power.”
Six USC students work as lead coordinators at the schools while several others take on duties as coaches.
Standing on the sidelines of the John W. Mack soccer field, Black called the experience of working for ASSC “totally awesome.” She added, “What’s not to like about coaching? Even though the kids just like to kick the ball and have a good time, I still like to try to teach them moves. And it’s being a role model for them. It’s good for them to see someone who just really wants to help others and teach them good things.”
Carly Chun-Hoon, a sophomore majoring in business administration (cinematic arts), spent last year as a coach before being promoted this year to a lead coordinator. In addition to giving after-school sports instruction, she provides a glimpse into college life.
“I’ve heard a lot of them say that they want to go to USC really badly,” she said. “Programs like these have an impact on the schools and make the students possibly want to pursue a higher education.”
The more immediate goal of the program is to teach children the basics of the sports and establish healthy habits.
As Varma explained, “We have kids who will say, ‘When I get home, there’s no adult supervision, so I’m stuck in the house.’ So one of our goals is to keep kids fit and teach them about fitness, so they will continue and make it a regular habit .
Rain or shine, the youngsters appreciate the opportunity to run around.
Alondra Perez, a fourth grader at John W. Mack, enjoys ASSC “because you get to get exercise, and you don’t have to stay inside and just play video games.”
Willie Jones, a fifth grader at the school, likes how the coaches “let us play with basketballs and soccer balls, and give us free T-shirts. You get a lot of exercise because you run and kick and shoot.”
For Tabitha Lopez, a fifth grader at the school, the best part of the program is the USC coaches and staff.
“They’re awesome, and I’m having so much fun,” she said. “I wish it would never end.”
For more information, contact Varma at (213) 740-5127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.