Oakland Roots and Soul teams raising money to upgrade East Oakland soccer field

The Oakland Roots soccer team is teaming up with non-profit America SCORES to raise funds to upgrade a soccer field at Brookfield Elementary in East Oakland

The kids at the school have been playing on asphalt for decades, and they often hurt themselves playing soccer as a result. With the support of the Oakland Roots and Soul, America SCORES Bay Area is raising $175,000 for turf to play on.

Roots player Johnny Rodriguez spent the afternoon training with the students on September 27, as part of an event announcing the renovation project.

"It’s always fun to see the kids running around with no worries," said Rodriguez, who is the longest standing player on the team.

The Oakland Unified School District has an after-school program supported by America SCORES Bay Area, a non-profit working to enrich education with soccer and poetry.

Former Roots player Jonny Orozco, who was at the event, said he knows what it’s like to play on the asphalt. He grew up in the East Oakland neighborhood and went to Brookfield Elementary. America SCORES was his very first organized team. 

"Soccer saved my life especially growing up in this neighborhood, cause a lot of my friends didn’t make it," said Orozco, who went on to get a college degree and play professionally for the Roots in 2020.

Orozco wore the number 98 in honor of the street he grew up on, 98th Avenue.

His first coach, Corrin Haskell, is now coaching his youngest brother, Sebastian Orozco, nearly 20 years later.

"He wouldn’t let us play soccer without getting our homework done – without doing some poetry. He was strict with that, even though we wanted to play. He would always hold us to that," said Orozco.

"Seven [Orozco] siblings have all played for the SCORES team at school. He was the first and now Sebastian is the last," said Haskell, who is a teacher at Brookfield Elementary.

Sebastian Orozco, who wants to play pro like his brother, is looking forward to practicing on the new turf. The students are calling it the Field of Dreams.

"A lot of kids have been getting hurt right now with this and if they put the turf it’s going to be easier to play with cleats and they’re not going to get that hurt," said Sebastian.

The turf will be installed as soon as the organization raises $175,000. 

The Oakland Roots and Soul teams are helping raise the money, with a Chief Purpose Officer dedicated to sports equity in Oakland.

"What we’re trying to build is the first purpose driven pro soccer team in the United States so that means we have a purpose, which is to harness the magic of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good," said Mike Geddis, the Chief Purpose Officer for the Roots and Soul.

"Many kids what they get from sports, the discipline, the healthy physical activity, what it does for your cognitive performance; There is so much data to show that physically active kids perform better in education, in mental health, in emotional stability, in how much they earn later in life," said Geddis.

"It just gives them an outlet," said Haskell. "I feel like kids, especially out here, have a lot of stress in school and also stress in the streets. These kids go through a lot."

Brookfield Elementary was slated for closure last year. Additionally, OUSD budget restraints cut sports and arts programs in 2018. 

Staff at Brookfield Elementary also noted the recent departure of professional sports teams from the city.

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"Coming on the heels of our growing relationship with the Curry’s foundation Eat Learn Play, now we have more of these partnerships to really provide needed services to our community," said Mike Hutchinson, Oakland School Board President. "We are building off a legacy that’s already been established. From Bill Russell to Frank Robinson to Rickey Henderson to Marshawn Lynch. It’s great to provide that to the next generation of students."

"For the first time in a long time, Brookfield in deep east Oakland is at the top of the list instead of being at the bottom of the list," Hutchinson continued.

America SCORES Bay Area has raised about $36,000 for the turf at Brookfield Elementary, with the goal of raising $175,000 to make it the Field of Dreams. To support with a donation, visit americascoresbayarea.org.