The San Jose Sharks are synonymous with hockey, but for some very deserving preschoolers in San Clara County, their minds might immediately jump to soccer, thanks to The Sharks Foundation’s grant of $20,000 to the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Head Start program.
The Sharks are pleased to assists Head Start’s preschool soccer program, which aims to combat childhood obesity while increasing parental involvement. A special emphasis is placed on reaching out to fathers of league participants. This program compliments the classroom physical education program already in place and helps to create awareness in parents of the importance of physical education in early childhood.
“We’re extremely excited to have the Sharks be a part of this new program,” said Ana Trujillo, Director of Children's Services at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, “It made it possible for a lot of families to be able to see their children participate in organized sports in a family oriented atmosphere that includes not just parents and children, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings.”
The Head Start Program has been present in Santa Clara County for 38 years serving low income families that make wages below the poverty guidelines establish by Congress each year (currently $20,000 for a family of four). It currently serves approximately 3,000 children, with the primary goal of preparing them for kindergarten.
Physical health has been shown to directly impact mental health and the capacity to learn and retain knowledge. As they say, healthy bodies make for healthy minds. The soccer program grew out of concern for the physical wellbeing of local children when, in 2004, it was observed that 47% of Head Start’s medical referrals were for obesity and overweight concerns.
In the early planning of the soccer league, Head Start had hoped to enroll at least 100 participants, but the response they received was tremendous. In total, more than 500 children are now enrolled in the program. Parental help has been critical to the success of the league and Head Start has been very happy with the parental response, especially from fathers. The soccer program helps encourage bonding between parents and children and will also include informational sessions on proper nutrition for the entire family.
Participants are generally between the ages of 3-5 and though many don’t know every nuance to the sport of soccer, naturally that isn’t the point.
“This program isn’t about soccer or competition. It’s about getting kids enjoying physical activity at an early age,” said Laura Johnston, Sharks Foundation Manager, “The San Jose Sharks know how important it is to be physically fit so we’re thrilled to get children looking at healthy living early on.”
The grant was officially awarded during opening day of the soccer league on Saturday, May 6 at the Youth Center of the Mexican American Community Service Agency (MACSA) in East San Jose. This center serves as one of two locations for the league to host practices and matches. Receiving the check on half of Head Start were Trujillo and Joe Fimiani, Assistant Superintendent of the Student Services Branch. Check presenters included Johnston, Rob Jaynes, Director of Fan Development & The Sharks Foundation; and Charlie Faas, Sharks Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer.
For those Sharks fans who may wish to assist with Head Start’s soccer league and other programming, there are numerous ways to get involved both in and out of the classroom.
“We need volunteers to support our outdoor sports, for example coaches, assistant coaches, referees and people who keep track of signs in and attendance sheets at the games. We are looking at adding a baseball league in the near future,” said Trujillo, adding that volunteers are also needed in the classroom with reading, math and science activities and other special projects that come up through the year.