Women's Soccer Makes A Difference

San Jose, Calif.----Rewarding experiences aren't just happening on the field and in the classroom for the San Jose State women's soccer team. The Spartans are making a difference in the community one book at a time.

Head coach Jeff Leightman and the 2011 San Jose State women's soccer team joined efforts with both Read Across America and The Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative (BAWSI), to volunteer and help Bay Area residents in need.

Download Leightman's audio interview on community service, found HERE.

A WINNING READING PROGRAM

The Spartans recently made an appearance at Bachrodt Charter Academy, a San Jose elementary school, to participate in the year-round reading motivation and awareness program, Read Across America.

Students in the K-5 elementary school are taught in a Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Program, an instructional program that develops bilingualism in two languages by integrating English and Spanish to each lesson, one language at a time.

"We are privileged to have the San Jose State women's soccer team at our school and read to our students," says Kari Dobashi-Barton, President of Bachrodt Charter Academy. "It is so wonderful to see the Spartan student-athletes come out to the community and inspire our children."

Each student-athlete had the opportunity to read a book to a class, particularly a Dr. Seuss book. What better way to celebrate the birthday of the American writer and cartoonist who is known for his children's books, than to read Dr. Seuss's most celebrated books like The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and Green Eggs and Ham.

"Giving back to the community is really important to our team, especially working with younger children," says midfielder and sophomore-to-be Alex Jimenez. "The children see us as role models on the field. When they see our team succeed, they also want to succeed."

Eager kindergartners in awe of the players, surrounded the student-athletes, but the children weren't the only ones star-struck. The Spartans were just as excited, if not more excited to be reading to the children, who lit up with excitement with each storytelling.

"Reading a book to the class is really important. The students feel good and we feel great doing it," adds Jimenez. "It's something we don't have to do, but it's something we really want to do and should do, to give back to the community and the people around here."

SPARTANS PARTNER WITH BAWSI

As relentless on the field as they are off the field, the Spartans continued their efforts in volunteering, this time joining forces with BAWSI. The Spartans came out six days in March and April offering health, hope and wholeness to the Bay Area community.

BAWSI is a public benefit, nonprofit corporation with a mission to create programs and partnerships for women athletes to make a positive difference in their communities and find new ways to help girls, women, and children with disabilities accomplish big things for themselves.

More than 20 Spartans were paired up with San Jose's Oster Elementary School of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, serving as mentors for young girls in their Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.

Starting goalkeeper and senior-to-be Meghan Maiwald, born completely deaf, was reunited with her former school, unexpectedly.

"My mom happened to be the principal of the school that BAWSI contacted (Oster Elementary) and since our team was chosen to be paired up with them, I knew it was meant to be," says Maiwald.

Oster Elementary proudly shares its campus with the County's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. A group of students from this program are completely mainstreamed into Oster classrooms with the assistance of signing interpreters.

"This opportunity happened for a reason and I had to take advantage of it. When I was growing up, I didn't have a deaf role model or athlete to relate to. I'm not only helping them, but they are helping me," adds Meghan.

Some Spartans communicated with the students using sign language, which they learned from the students or teammate Maiwald, but the spirit of athleticism overcame any language barriers.

The student-athletes encouraged all the girls to be active through playing different games and activities. The young girls enjoyed every minute of the experience, something BAWSI strives to accomplish through its program.

"Interaction with college students shows the children that higher learning is a possibility for students of all abilities," says Meghan's mother and Oster School principal Ginny Maiwald.

About 60 children from kindergarten through grade five participated in the different activities and stations setup around campus. One spring morning, a group shot baskets and another practiced soccer dribbling. On another part of campus, some children learned about self-confidence, and another group played tee ball.

One experience in particular made a lasting impression on Maiwald. "This little girl in particular, born with a life-altering syndrome, is so positive and joyful. Every time I see her she brings a smile to my face. While playing tee ball one day, she took a swing and just hammered the ball. She was running around the bases with this huge smile on her face. Seeing that smile makes it all worth it."