PCC soccer brings students back to school
When Rock Creek resident Delia McQueen was growing up, she watched as many of her extended family members joined gangs or got pregnant at 13, one by one.
At the time, it would have been easy for her to join her peers but McQueen got involved in sports and school instead. No one has ever questioned that Im 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, earn a college degree and pave a path to a better life.
McQueen, now in her 40s, has met countless students in her role as a physical education instructor at Portland Community College Rock Creek who never dreamed of higher education. Shes met kids whose parents told them theyd never amount to anything, kids who dont 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 isnt the value of education, long-term career goals or a better chance at a higher income that attracts them to a college campus. For quite a few recent high school graduates in western Washington County, its soccer.
McQueen recognized the school-as-a-means-to-play-sports attitude right away, based on her own experiences. Thats 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 mens team, which only accepts 30, and next year theyre expecting more. The womens 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 diplomas.
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.
For José De La Torre one of the first people in his family to graduate from high school and the first to attempt college a two-year degree seemed out of reach and a bachelors degree seemed impossible. With mediocre performances in school and sports at Hillsboros Glencoe High School, De La Torre committed to classes and soccer when he had the chance at PCC and is headed off to Multnomah University in Portland next fall with both academic and athletic scholarships.
In addition, now that the season is over, hes dedicating even more time to raising his grade point average above 3.5 for extra grant money.
Players say their teammates not only motivate them to work hard at practice, but they help each other with studying and homework. Players have to earn a 2.0 GPA or higher, maintain good class attendance and take 12 credits if they want to play soccer.
McQueen sees a lot of herself in the soccer players shes 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 resonated with her.
Compounding her tough surroundings was McQueens Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which went undiagnosed while she was growing up in the 1970s. McQueen would act out, punching her fists 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 wouldve gone down a bad road. I wouldnt be anywhere close to where I am today, said McQueen, a physical education teacher at PCC.
Keeping her grades up solely so she could play sports, McQueen forged ahead, graduating from high school, going on to community college, earning a four-year degree and eventually a masters degree.
Thats why McQueen spent years trying to bring back PCCs soccer team and now helps out with the schools club team, which funnels players to the official team. Shes spent her own money on jerseys and league fees and continues to volunteer her time.
Dmitrik Vidalez-Sandoval plays with the PCC soccer club. His mother had him when she was 18 and didnt make it to college until years later when she was single and raising three kids. She always encouraged Vidalez-Sandoval to earn a degree. So did his grandma, who helped raised him and also attended PCC later in life. A photo of his grandma studying surrounded by three little kids serves as inspiration for him.
Vidalez-Sandoval was looking into colleges while attending Century High School in Hillsboro, but then started looking at the costs and chose PCC. Hes hoping the soccer club will help him polish his rusty soccer skills after taking off his senior year of high school due to injury. Hes planning to try out for Oregon Institute of Technologys soccer team, hoping for a scholarship that would help him pay for a degree in software engineering or computer science.
Jose Mendez-Zepeda was one of the many students McQueen encouraged to join the soccer team. She gives us encouragement and options. She influences us to do better, he said of McQueen, whos affectionately known among soccer players as Mama D.
Soccer keeps them focused, McQueen said. If you want to play another year you have to finish your first year.
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.
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-Zepedas parents moved the family from a rough California neighborhood to get their kids away from drugs and gangs. It was this upbringing thats 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 McQueens. He, too, wasnt 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 cutting down on the temptation to drop out.
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, Youre going to go places. People dont think you will, but you will.
But now De La Torre says hes 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 Im meeting people on campus, De La Torre said.
Its soccer, said McQueen, but its really all about education.