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PCC soccer brings students back to school

Former FGHS teacher and coach knows the positive influence of sports

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - (Left to right) Jose Mendez-Zepeda, Jose De La Torre, Ibrahim Turay, Dmitrik Vidalez-Sandoval, Nichola Wong and Delia McQueen braved the wind, rain and cold last week on PCCs Rock Creek Campus to play soccer. Growing up, former Forest Grove High School teacher and coach Delia McQueen saw her extended family members join gangs or get pregnant at 13 one by one.

At the time, it would have been easy to join her peers, but McQueen got involved in sports and school instead. "No one has ever questioned that I'm doing exactly what I should be doing with my life," she said.

Being part of a team and excelling in athletics kept her motivated to continue her education, earning degrees and a way out of her hard neighborhood.

McQueen has met countless kids in her physical education classes at PCC Rock Creek who never dreamed of higher education. She's met kids whose parents told them they'd never amount to anything, kids who don't see themselves as college material and kids who put all their hard-earned money back into helping their low-income families.

For a lot of 18 year olds, it isn't the value of education, long-term career goals or a better chance at a higher income that brings them to higher education. For quite a few recent high school graduates in western Washington County, it's soccer.

McQueen recognized the school-as-a-means-to-play-sports attitude right away based on her own experiences. That's why she spearheaded the effort that brought back the PCC soccer team this fall, 20 years after funding cuts ended the original program.

About 70 guys tried out for the men's team, which only accepts 30, and next year they're expecting more. The women's team has 20 players. Both teams compete in the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC).

The team completed its first season a few weeks ago. And while the season is over, the players are still in school on their way to earning degrees.

Many never expected to be sitting in classes, studying in the library and doing homework in their free time after high school graduation, but they did know they wanted to keep playing soccer.

After graduating from Forest Grove High School in June, Christian Calzada was looking for a place he could play while starting on his path toward a law degree. Part of a low-income family, Calzada was looking for his cheapest option close to home.

After looking at the cost and time commitment of law school, Calzada's spirits drooped. But the soccer team has given him hope for his long-held dream. Not only do his teammates motivate him to work hard at practice, they keep him studying and help each other with homework. Players have to earn a 2.0 GPA or higher, have good class attendance and take 12 credits if they want to play soccer.

McQueen sees a lot of herself in the soccer players she's met. Her single dad kept her in field hockey, soccer, volleyball, basketball, track, karate, even cheerleading and dance team. She loved playing, being on a team and the strict schedule and rules of formal practice and games.

Compounding her tough surroundings was McQueen's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which went undiagnosed while she was growing up in the 1970s. McQueen often had outbursts, punching her hands through doors and windows and getting in trouble for swearing.

"My dad realized at a young age what kind of personality I had," McQueen said. "He knew I was going to be trouble."

Sports helped McQueen channel her energy and gave her structure. Without sports, "I probably would've gone down a bad road. I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am today," said McQueen, now a Rock Creek resident.

Keeping her grades up solely so she could play sports, McQueen forged ahead, graduating high school, going on to community college, earning a four-year degree and eventually a masters degree.

That's why McQueen spent years trying to bring back PCC's soccer team and now helps out with the school's club team, which funnels players to the official team. She's spent her own money on jerseys and league fees and continues to volunteer her time.

For Jose De La Torre — one of the first people in his family to graduate high school and the first to attempt college — a two-year degree seemed out of reach at one point. A bachelor's degree seemed impossible. With mediocre performances in school and sports at Glencoe High School, De La Torre committed to classes and soccer when he had the chance at PCC. Now he's headed off to Multnomah University in Portland next fall with both academic and athletic scholarships. Now that the season is over, he's dedicating even more time to raising his grade point average above 3.5 for extra grant money.

McQueen is "like that aunt that keeps it real with you," telling students to study and practice hard if they want to achieve, said De La Torre.

Playing a college sport has really driven home one point for Calzada: "Life isn't always easy but if you work for it you're going to get it."

Jose Mendez-Zepeda was one of the many students McQueen encouraged to join the soccer team. "She gives us encouragement and options," he said of McQueen, who's affectionately known among soccer players as Mama D. "She influences us to do better."

Soccer "keeps them focused," McQueen said. "If you want to play another year you have to finish your first year."

Mendez-Zepeda said his dad loves watching his soccer games and encourages him to take advantage of the opportunity for college he never had. A Hillsboro High School graduate, Mendez-Zepeda's parents moved the family from a rough California neighborhood to get their kids away from drugs and gangs. It was this upbringing that's sparked his aspirations to earn a social work degree by starting out at PCC. "I want to help kids have another look at life," Mendez-Zepeda said.

PCC will begin offering tuition waivers to soccer players to help with the cost of classes, said PCC Athletic Director Dick Magruder, whose career history is similar to McQueen's. He, too, wasn't interested in college or academics but ended up earning a four-year degree so he could play baseball a few more years.

The team also helps players feel more connected to PCC — a commuter school that draws students of all ages — which also helps retention.

Because of his teammates, Calzada joined the Oregon Leadership Institute so he could mentor youth and encourage them to go to college.

"We do a lot of goofing off but at the end of the day we have so much respect for each other and so much love for one another and we keep that connection after the season," Mendez-Zepeda said.

Once, De La Torre counted his mom as his only supporter. "She says, 'You're going to go places. People don't think you will, but you will.'"

But now De La Torre says he's got McQueen, his teammates and Coach Walter Arevalo to add to the list. "You feel more involved. Otherwise

I would just go to class and go home but now

I'm meeting people on campus," De La Torre said.

"It's soccer," said McQueen, "but it's really all about education."