Matador student-athletes went back to elementary school on Friday to encourage kids to focus on their goals — on the field and in the classroom.
California State University, Northridge athletics recently expanded its Matador Kids Club to include entire schools, concentrating on the university’s neighborhood elementary schools. Members of the CSUN women’s soccer team and head coach Keith West visited Topeka Charter School for Advanced Studies in Northridge on Feb. 20, speaking to youngsters in grades K-5 in two separate assemblies.
“I know your teachers tell you to work hard and never give up,” said West ’03 (Finance/Real Estate), whose son is in kindergarten at the school. “That’s what our program is about, too. The classroom is the most important place — knowledge is power.”
West also played for CSUN during his collegiate days, leading the Western region in scoring as a senior. On Friday, he introduced the Topeka elementary students to some of his players, pointing out that most of them started playing soccer at age 5 or 6, “just like you guys.”
Senior Melissa Lopez, a midfielder and Valley native, explained why the coach emphasizes that “school comes first.”
“I grew up here, really close to CSUN, and I dreamed of playing soccer for CSUN,” Lopez told the youngsters. “My mom didn’t let me go to practice unless I finished my homework. We’re going to play soccer for a little while, but we’re going to have jobs for our whole lives — so school has to come first.”
West and his players talked about life as college student-athletes and the discipline it took to get there, but they drew the biggest “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd of kids with their ball-handling skills.
The auditorium exploded with excitement when sophomore goalkeeper Jovani McCaskill juggled three soccer balls with her hands. By special request from the audience, sophomore forward Breanna McCallum also demonstrated a “rainbow” kick — flicking a ball in a sideways arc.
“These ladies had to work very, very hard to perfect these skills,” West told the students in grades 3-5. “If you keep working really hard, you can get better. You will get better.”
The Matador Kids Club, for children age 13 and younger, is a free membership that includes a Kids Club T-shirt and free admission to CSUN athletic events. CSUN recently expanded the club to include local elementary schools in hopes of forging strong connections between area kids and the university. Topeka Charter in Northridge was among the first to sign up.
Principal Temika “Miko” Dixon said Topeka’s students, parents and staff have embraced the opportunity to connect with CSUN.
“It is a symbiotic relationship,” Dixon said.“Our students have opportunities to engage in new learning experiences and gain a deeper understanding of the college atmosphere. The benefits extend beyond academic work as well. Other benefits of this partnership include improved behavior at school and higher attendance rates.
“For CSUN, this partnership creates a natural linkage for students to attend their university,” she said. “It also gives students — both the college and the elementary aged — a broader understanding of their future possibilities through new experiences … around the greater community.”
For more information about the Matador Kids Club, visit http://gomatadors.com/information/KidsClub