Olosaa Solovi, West High School’s motivational football coach

Story by HUNTER THORNBURG

Coaches are mainly expected to help student-athletes develop in their respective sport. Most also take part in keeping an eye on the athletes’ academic standing. However, the coaches who tend to have the largest impact display motivational characteristics, love for their community, and honesty and connection with their athletes. Many athletic programs dream of having a coach who goes above and beyond to make sure the student-athletes succeed. 

That dream came true for West High School upon hiring the varsity football coach, Olosaa Solovi.

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Coach Solovi on the field with his team. Photo courtesy of Olosaa Solovi.

Solovi has worked as a youth advocate for six years. He is heading into his second year of football coaching at West High, located at 241 N. 300 West, in Fall 2020. He said his coaching style is based around identifying the athletes’ needs, and getting involved.

“I try to meet with each player at least once a week. We make home visits and we get on the phone with them. We’ve broken up our staff into teams, looking over different kids and their needs. Then, as needs come up, we try to formulate a plan and go from there,” Solovi said in a phone interview. He said the staff tries to visit the athletes’ residences at least once a month to check in and make sure they are in a good position to continue to play football.

When the athletes are struggling academically, motivationally, or personally, Solovi said it is vital to incorporate the parents.

“I think the major approach is getting the parents involved. I think in my experience, especially with the demographic we deal with, unless the parents are involved, we’re going to have a harder time with each student,” Solovi said. He added that his staff’s ability to include the parents is the key factor to guaranteeing the success of every student-athlete.

Even though he’s mostly focusing on the little aspects, Solovi said the right way to coach is just to approach the position with love. In his opinion, if you love the student-athletes, your staff, the game itself, and the community you work in, you’ll find some level of success with coaching. 

Despite the fact that Solovi is a fairly new coach at West High, Assistant Coach Keith Lopati said he has had quite an effect on the football program thus far. “He communicates very well with his players. He has a very open and upfront relationship with our administration, faculty, his players, parents, and coaches. His rapport with everyone involved in the football program has to this point been very refreshing and much needed,” Lopati said in an email interview.

However, Lopati said Solovi’s impact is far-reaching. “His passion to bring back the ‘West High Pride’ even goes beyond the football program. He is actively involved and engaged with just about every program that we have in the school both athletically and academically. He encourages his coaching staff to do the same and always says, ‘We cannot expect our players to be involved if we are not willing to do the same thing,’” Lopati said.

Lopati said he enjoyed working alongside Solovi and learning his style this past season. “His coaching approach is a smash mouth, win the game in the trenches mentality on the field,” he said. That method reinforces his impact off the field by teaching the student-athletes that good character can be just as important as learning the physical skills on the football field. 

West High’s athletic director, Rachel Townsend, recognizes Solovi’s dedication to the program and the community. “He is 100% in all the time. I’m not sure there’s a time he doesn’t think about coaching. He loves his community and it’s a way he gives back,” Townsend said in an email interview. She said he is very honest with his players, is motivational, and sets high expectations for the team.

Townsend said one of the most prominent aspects of Solovi’s coaching is that he has been able to obtain the support of the community. “They trust him and believe in him. He keeps academics as the focus,” which she said will benefit the community in the future.

Townsend said Solovi finds ways to keep the athletes engaged academically and athletically. She said the players attend study hall as part of their weekly team hours, and this has resulted in positive grade checks. Athletically, Townsend said, “the students feel investment through visits to camps for 7v7, college coaches visiting practice, and the coaches that show them purpose daily.” 7v7 football is a no-contact style of play that promotes the learning of the mechanics of the game by inserting the players into any position that isn’t an offensive or defensive lineman.

She said the athletic and academic involvement of Solovi has resulted in the student-athletes showing dedication and taking ownership of the program. This has created a family atmosphere for the football team.

As the 2020 season approaches, Solovi said he is looking forward to making adjustments and improvements based on last season. He said West High is scheduled to play one of the top teams in the country, and he is excited for the challenge, believing it will make his team better.

However, above all else, he said he is eager to see how the athletes will develop individually and as a team. Solovi said, “I’m excited to see these kids come together, how each of them have gotten better, and see which new leaders we have. I’m really excited.”

Delinquents: How the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake are redirecting today’s youth to constructive after-school activities

Story by Ellie Cook

With working-class parents already struggling to make ends meet, there leaves no money left for ballet classes, soccer teams, or any other after-school activities for their children. As a result, kids are responsible for finding their own ways of entertainment. Over the last few years, the western area of Salt Lake City has seen a growth in children using the time between the end of school and when their guardians return from work in a less productive way than one would hope. 

The Utah advocacy group, Choose Gang Free, stated, “Too much free time can sometimes be dangerous and trouble can often follow.” The organization encourages parents to seek constructive and safe after-school options for their children.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America recognizes the problem and has taken steps to assist in leading kids on a path to success by providing affordable care options and collaborating with local schools. 

The mission statement is, “To inspire and empower youth to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.” Fortunately, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake stays strong to their word! Certain locations, such as the Lied Center, put in extra precautions to ensure they can assist more vulnerable communities as best they can. 

The national website states, “Every day, 11.3 million youth leave school with no place to go. Clubs provide a safe place to play, grow and learn while empowering youth to excel in school, become good citizens and lead healthy, productive lives. Kids and teens who attend Boys & Girls Clubs perform better academically and are more likely to avoid risky behaviors and attend school consistently.”

Since 1860, club members have raved about their experiences.”The Boys and Girls Clubs offer a safe and accepting place for all youth to come together and participate in fun activities. Also provided is homework help and mentorship for those who don’t have access to such services,” said former Lied Club member Natalie Clark, 22.”It’s a unique program serving much at-risk youth, such as myself throughout my adolescent and teenage development.” 

The clubs serve those in grades 1-12 and have two separate programs, the junior (grades 1-6) and teen (grades 7-12).

The programs are also well received by the staff. Lied Club Director Bethany Weller said in a phone interview, “I love seeing youth realize and reach their full potential!” She added, “We provide a safe place where youth have supportive adult relationships, participate in both fun activities and targeted programs, and are provided with opportunities and recognition.” 

Employees find joy in their ability to connect with the youth, and planning activities or attending some fun field trips with the kids. Many are able to connect with children on more personal levels, whether that means they communicate with a child in their first language (many staff members are bilingual) or reminisce on the past from when they were a club member themselves. However, clubs of all locations are always searching for more hands. “We are always looking for dedicated staff or volunteers that want to come in and connect with the youth and serve them along with the staff,” Weller said.

The club itself has one flat fee of $20 a year. However, accommodations may be made if finances are an issue. The club has also teamed up with nearby schools to provide students with bus transportation and escorts to their locations. “It is difficult for parents who are working at the same time that school releases to pick up their kid and/or they don’t want their kid(s) going home alone for hours until they are home from work,” Weller explained. “By picking club members up and bringing them to the club until their parents can pick them up gives parents the peace of mind that their kid is safe and engaging in fun activities.” 

The Lied Club also offers the Kids’ Cafe, which provides dinner to club members and their families on weeknights. There are summer and fall options, all welcome to anyone. Visit the website to learn more or enroll your child in one of the many clubs located in Salt Lake City.

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the after-school clubs will remain closed until further notice. The public is encouraged to visit the website for updates. 

 

 

Cory Norton, West High School’s exceptional golf coach

Story and photos by HUNTER THORNBURG

Coaches make up a significant part of an athlete’s day, their academic career, and perhaps even their professional endeavors. It is vital that athletic organizations hire individuals who value development, and understand the importance of building the relationships that matter. Student-athletes are likely to put more effort into their aspirations if they know their coaches trust and believe in them. 

Head golf coach Cory Norton in his office.

One of the coaches who matches that description is West High School’s varsity golf coach, Cory Norton.

Norton has worked for the Salt Lake City School District for 29 years — 19 years as a behavioral specialist, and 10 years as special education teacher for West High. He is heading into his fourth year of golf coaching in Fall 2020. However, when Norton began his career at West, he wasn’t coaching golf. 

He started out as the varsity offensive coordinator with the football team at the school, located at 241 N. 300 West, and held that position for five years. During the same time, Norton was also an assistant coach for West’s varsity basketball team. He stayed with that program for seven years. Norton then took over as the head baseball coach, guiding that team for three years before becoming the head boy’s golf coach.

His extensive résumé has mostly revolved around his style and goals as a leader.

“Whether they’re competitive or whether they’re kind of an average player, that doesn’t matter. The main thing is that I want them to work hard, progress, get better, and the No. 1 thing is just to have a fun time,” he said.

Norton said golf is a sport that one can play for the rest of their life. Many of his golfers enjoy the game, and just want to learn how to play the sport in order to develop those skills and have an enjoyable experience to carry into their adult life. However, he said that teaching the student-athletes these skills is only half the job. He added that he also tries to instill positive morals and build character. 

“We’re trying to teach good values. Be kind to people, be a good citizen, stand up for what you believe in, and be a leader basically,” Norton said. He hopes to guide his student-athletes to be good advocates for their families and the school.

Student-athletes say he has significantly impacted them on and off the green. 

Tyler Skeen, a sophomore golfer at West High.

Tyler Skeen, a sophomore at West High School, said he connects with coaches best when they are flexible and kind. He said he is most efficient and successful with his training when the coaches provide consistent practices. In his opinion, Norton fits the bill.

“Five practices a week, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Every day we kind of do similar things. Fundamentals is what we work mostly on, and then once or twice a week we’ll go out and just practice,” Skeen said. Alongside consistency and flexibility, he said Norton tends to be very upbeat, and he strives to help athletes with their individual game.

Skeen’s older brother, Trevor, a junior at West High, is also on the team. Trevor said he strives to build a good relationship with his coaches. He said he connects with coaches best and has a good experience if the coaches are fun, friendly and involved.

Trevor Skeen, a junior golfer at West High.

“He’s (Norton) actually just a really fun guy. He makes jokes. He always has a plan for practice. Most of the time, it’s pretty much the same things, but it’s always helpful. He’ll give advice, and sometimes he’ll bring other people in. I like Coach, and I like the way he runs practice,” Skeen said.

Another junior on the West High golf team is Anthony Smith. He said Norton often works with the athletes individually, giving them tips and being supportive. He added that Norton also makes efforts to connect with the players by interacting with them through friendly competition. “We practice every day, and he’s always there. He sometimes even plays with us by organizing some competitions while we’re practicing, and that’s pretty fun,” Smith said.

Anthony Smith

Junior Anthony Smith is also on the West High School golf team.

All of the student-athletes said Norton is good about holding them accountable for their academics. He often conducts grade checks to make sure they’re on track, though the athletes say they don’t worry much about that as they are all responsible students. Norton said, “For me, the main thing is that I want them to do well with their academics. The first value I’m teaching is that even though they are playing a sport, school should still be one of their top priorities.”

The student-athletes are not the only ones observing Norton’s approach as the golf coach. Rachel Townsend, West High’s athletic director, has also taken notice. 

She said Norton is a coach who magnetizes his players by taking ownership of the program, which causes the players to also take ownership. “Coach Norton identifies strengths within his athletes, allowing him to help them focus on what they’re doing right. He’s very positive with his athletes,” she said. “He expects them to put in the extra time to do well on the green, and encourages them to do so.”

Norton said he is looking forward to coaching his seniors who have been with him since he became the golf coach three years ago. He said he is also excited to see the talent of his athletes on display, and hopes they will get some college scholarships out of the Fall 2020 season. 

Derby girl proves being Deaf won’t slow her down

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Hannah Rivas, also known by her derby name “Menstrual Psycho,” skating at practice.

Story and photos by CASSANDRA ROSENKRANTZ 

Crowds are cheering the skaters on. The referee blows his whistle. The coach is yelling to change lanes. The buzzer signifies a penalty. The clock — Tick. Tock. 

The rink is filled with so much noise, but, for one person, it’s a quiet place.

Meet 19-year-old Hannah Rivas, a talented roller derby girl who was born Deaf. 

EARLY YEARS
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Rivas was told by her parents to have fun and play sports. Having four older brothers involved in football, Rivas knew she needed to find something athletic that she could succeed in.

However, she went through many struggles with playing sports in her early years because of her inability to hear. 

As a teenager, Rivas was able to get a cochlear implant which has improved her hearing. The external implant helps by detecting sounds and sending them to the internal implant that is placed underneath the skin behind the ear.

As she got older, things in her life started to improve. Rivas started high school at the Jean Massieus School of the Deaf in Salt Lake City (JMS) where she could be together with other students who were just like her.

At JMS, Rivas only had two options for sports: volleyball and basketball. The school did not have enough kids to have full participation in all high school sports, so it offered only the two most popular activities. 

Being able to play volleyball opened Rivas’ eyes. She realized how much more potential she has and how much stronger she could become by playing sports.

After graduating from high school, she realized she had to find a different activity. Rivas looked for places near her house and stumbled across the Wasatch Roller Depot, also known as the Derby Depot, located at 1415 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City

The Wasatch Roller Derby team began in 2008. It is a sister league to Red Rockettes, a recreational league for women, and Uinta Madness Roller Derby, a co-ed league.

Previous health conditions prevented Rivas from practicing at the rink. She spent hours every day training to become stronger. Initially, she couldn’t even lift a milk jug above her head. Conditioning at home and watching videos of professional derby helped her improve even when she wasn’t at the arena.

With the help of her family, Rivas was able to grow stronger day by day in order to succeed in derby. 

Rivas preparing to stop after taking three laps.

GETTING STARTED
After a month of trying derby, she was hooked. From that moment on, she was known by her derby name — Menstrual Psycho, or Psycho for short.

The Wasatch Roller Derby has a home team that competes locally as well as a travel team that goes around the United States to compete against other leagues. 

After proving her commitment to derby, Psycho was chosen to be on the travel team and fitted with her gear.

Psycho said that not being able to wear her cochlear implant while skating was a significant obstacle. She didn’t want to risk breaking the expensive device. But it also won’t fit under her required safety helmet, which makes her unable to use the device while in action. This means that she cannot hear while skating — a huge issue when competing with her team because sound is a big part of the sport.

Psycho and her teammates discussed what to do. They knew that not having communication wouldn’t lead to success for their team.

The derby girls decided to learn some simple sign language terms that were developed in New Zealand specifically for derby. 

For example, the team holds up numbers on their hands to signify which of the four lanes they need to be in. They also have signals for laps and times. Having her team know these cues has greatly improved how Psycho responds to the team during a match, she said.

Most of the players do not know American Sign Language. So, Psycho always has an interpreter on standby at her practices and competitions.

This isn’t an easy job for interpreters. They have to be in Psycho’s line of vision. This means staying in the middle of the track and guiding her in whatever way she needs. 

“These people aren’t just my teammates, they are like my family,” said Psycho about her teammates and interpreters. “They think it is just one small word in sign language. But to me, that’s everything.”

Shelley Wooley, Psycho’s mother, wishes that there was some technology available to Psycho that could help her understand what is happening on the track without the help of an interpreter.

Most of the penalty signs and other signals in roller derby are implemented by a sound, which makes it difficult for Psycho. She could be skating and not even know that she has a penalty. 

Not getting off the track after one receives a penalty could result in being kicked out of the game. This has caused Psycho a few penalties, solely because she couldn’t hear what was going on around the track.

Wooley has begun to think of ways to fix this issue. For example, colored lights could be used to signify each signal and send a visual message to Psycho. Wooley is looking into developing some sort of face mask or goggles that would implement the light signals.

“It’s amazing how well these girls work together even with some setbacks,” Wooley said. “All of the women are so different and they happened to all find a safe spot in derby.”

The Wasatch Roller Derby team practicing the derby technique of guarding.

GAME TIME
Psycho has become an outstanding player after three years of roller derby.

 “She is an amazing competitor,” said Wasatch Roller Derby’s Coach Ricky Khaaan. “She hasn’t slowed down the team at all. If anything, she made it better — stronger.” 

Psycho, being the youngest out of her nine teammates, provides the inner drive and fire the team needs. She has celebrated every achievement along the way of her success. 

“There are so many people that are Deaf that think they can’t do anything,” Psycho said. “I would like to tell them to never quit. Anything is possible if you put your mind and heart to it.”

The team is just getting started with the 2020 season. The Wasatch Roller Derby has competitions every month and visitors are welcome to watch or to join in on the fun of skating.

Empowering the youth

The Capitol West Boys and Girls Club prepares for the opening of its facility in March

Story by ROBERTO ELGUERA

A community program that has been serving the public and creating opportunities for youth for more than 60 years in Salt Lake City is the Capitol West Boys and Girls Club.

The club has served as a gathering point for the youth in the Fair Park community since the 1980s. The club first started out in a local middle school and then moved to a location between West High School and the Guadalupe Church. Club Director Maren Miller called it, “A pretty ugly little cinderblock building, but we had a good time there.” Currently, the Capitol West Club will be moving to a new location in March 2020. “We just grew out of it and it was too small and the kids deserved more. So, we actually spent seven years looking for the perfect property that would allow us to stay in that same neighborhood,” Miller says. 

Even though the old building is no longer in use, the mission for the Boys and Girls Club remains the same. That is to Provide a safe place for youth and teens and give them an opportunity at a Great Future.” 

Today, the club is double the previous size. The new and improved facility will be able to host 250 youth a day. “The new building also has a second floor that we’re not completing that will allow us to grow even more, and when we max out the first floor, then we’ll have the opportunity to expand,” Miller says.

The Boys and Girls Club Capitol Campaign raised about $7 million in three years in preparation for the new building. This required plenty of phone calls to charitable foundations and fundraising. This funding will allow for more programs and resources for the youth that the old facility didn’t have. “There will be a big art center to be able to work on all different kinds of fine arts and visual arts. It also has a stage that we can use for our talent shows, plays, musical performances, and fashion shows,” Miller says. There will also be programs on Esports, technology, and life skills. 

The staff also observes the specific interests the youth need and plan it out on a month-to-month basis. One of the staff members who has been putting many years into the program is Rose Park’s Antonio Fierro.

Antonio Fierro (B-boy Alien) competing in a dance competition. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

Capitol West has been close to Fierro since he was a kid. He spent many hours after school practicing breakdancing (more commonly known as breaking in the Hip-Hop community). This work ethic led Fierro into more involvement with the club as a volunteer when he entered high school. “I started teaching back in 2012. I would just go there after school in my free time. I was still in high school, just going there teaching the youngsters.” 

Today, he has a paid position as a tutor and program director. He uses Hip-Hop culture along with his teaching to get the youth active and get in tune with their creativity. Alongside teaching the fundamentals, he keeps it true to the roots of the culture by teaching the history of where it all started. “During the years I got a lot of kids involved in Hip-Hop culture. Dancing especially, and over time I showed them other aspects of Hip-Hop, like emceeing, graffiti, and deejaying,” Fierro says. He calls his program, The Get Down.  

It’s all about empowering the youth. “In society you know, if you live in the hood amongst Chicanos, Polynesians, Blacks, we already have a stigma against us since birth. So Hip-Hop is like the empowerment. It’s like, ‘Damn, I could be somebody, you know?’ Just be proud to be brown, proud to be black and just get down on the floor and just celebrate our culture,” Fierro says. 

Along with embracing our differences, the club hopes to provide more educational resources such as after school tutoring. This will allow more students to get help with homework and preparation for exams. The club also gives students an opportunity to stretch their creative muscles to new heights outside of the classroom setting. And most important of all, the goal is to get the community’s youth more united with each other, no matter what background they may come from.

Fierro taking a photo with students after teaching. Photo courtesy of Antonio Fierro.

The club provides programs for students K-12. Both the elementary and teen programs will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Programs cost $20 each year. For families currently staying in motels or shelters, or under financial circumstances, the fee can be waived. For more information on transportation, email Club Director Maren Miller at mmiller@gslclubs.org or call 801-531-7652. The club will continue to keep its promise and provide the best services for the youth.

 

 

Residents of Salt Lake’s west side say new dog park will benefit all

Story and photo by CASSANDRA ROSENKRANTZ

Take a moment to think about all the different spaces you go to meet people. In regards to the west side of Salt Lake City, some wonderful places come to mind. Libraries, schools and public centers are among the great places to eat, relieve stress and explore with neighbors.

Our pets, on the other hand, don’t have the same opportunities. They get locked up inside, taken on the shortest of walks and don’t always have enough space to run around. Enter the dog park. This sounds ideal, but dog parks can be hard to find on the west side.

Ray Parker, a manager at Dogs All Day SLC in the Ball Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City, said he has not seen any particularly large dog parks in the area. “That alone is a sign that something needs to happen in order for a dog’s level of happiness to be improved,” he said.

“Salt Lake City is such a big, cramped city — it is challenging to give a dog enough exercise in this environment. Plus, there are so many stress-inducing factors that cause anxiety in dogs. They need a place to cool down and hang with other pups,” he said.

Parker believes that both families and dogs can benefit from a neighborhood dog park that checks all the boxes. It’s much more than just a regular park — it is a place where people can relax, enjoy being in the company of their dogs and share time with like-minded neighbors. 

The Utah Animal Adoption Center (UAAC) in Rose Park took an interest in this issue. In an email to Voices of Utah, the center emphasized the need for dogs to have plenty of room to exercise and socialize. “We have a 3.5-acre field near Jordan River Parkway,” the center explained. “Our dogs can get exercise, play with other dogs and have a space to relax out in the fresh air.” 

Residents on the west side have shared their opposition to the idea of larger dog parks because there are few empty lots where something of this size could fit. “So many new houses, apartment buildings and other structures are being built. No one wants a constant dog barking and children yelling outside their window,” the UAAC said in the email.

The UAAC said that other residents, though, have expressed concern about the cost. They believe the community council members would rather spend money on more significant projects in the neighborhood. The shelter reminds us that there are many considerations when building a park.

Dogs can enjoy many features in a space made just for them. Most parks have a shaded area where dogs and their owners can rest, as well as a specific place for smaller dogs where they can safely play away from the bigger dogs. 

Throw in areas with fresh, clean water to drink and a bathing station and mister to keep everyone cool and you have a recipe for a perfect place for adventure with your best pal.

Tiffany Laedrow, a resident in the Westpointe area, has a 2-year-old mixed breed dog named Baxter who gets walked almost every morning. “It would be great if we could have a park nearby that hosted events where we could meet other dogs and their owners,” she said.

Baxter taking a break from his walk in the Westpointe area.

Laedrow said other cities in Utah have group activities for dog owners every week. She said the Cottonwood Heights Dog Playgroup is one such group. It is comprised of community members with dogs who get together at a local dog park in their neighborhood. Laedrow wishes that the west side of Salt Lake City would offer something similar. 

In a later interview, Laedrow said she had noticed how the community dog meetings impacted the way high-energy Baxter acted throughout the day. “After attending two meetups, Baxter started to calm down when we were at home.” He used up most of his energy playing with other dogs at the park or on a group hike.

“I thought that Baxter was just a young dog with too much energy and that there was nothing I could do except wait until he grew out of it. I was shocked when I learned that he wasn’t the problem, but the problem was me,” Laedrow said. “I live in an apartment and don’t have the space for him to run around like he can when he is at the meetups with other dogs.”

Laedrow is planning to bring this matter up at a community meeting in April 2020 in the hopes of getting a group started on collecting donations to build a gathering place on the west side for dogs and their owners to get to know each other.

Ski programs molding better lives for those living in Salt Lake City’s west-side communities

Story by MARTIN KUPRIANOWICZ

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Children living on the west side of Salt Lake City enjoying the snow and cross-country skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

It’s Saturday. The sun is shining and snow is on the ground. Parents are dropping their children off at Mountainview Elementary in Salt Lake City and the kids are already exploding with excitement — they are going on a field trip. Juan Gilberto Rejón — or “Coach Juan,” as those in west-side communities refer to him — is patiently waiting outside of the school to take roughly 50 elementary students to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to view a population of wild eagles on this day.

Coach Juan is the founder, executive director, and coach for the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families, which is a program that aims to create pathways to college for the underserved by getting students involved in the outdoors. Coach Juan started this program because he believes the experiences earned in the outdoors are valuable ones that can set children up to better handle adversity throughout their lives.

On weekends throughout the school year, Coach Juan often takes students on excursions to participate in a wide variety of outdoor activities, from bird watching to skiing. Recently, cross-country skiing has been a big emphasis of the program.

“It’s a blessing for our underserved and our underprivileged because they wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. It’s too expensive,” Coach Juan said. “For a family of five or six to go skiing at $200 a pop, that’s already over $1,000 being spent for just a day of skiing. There’s just no way these families living in poverty could afford that.”

His ski program is partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance that takes students cross-country skiing on weekends in the winter. Another partner is She Jumps, an organization that motivates women and girls of all backgrounds to step out of their comfort zone in a fun, non-threatening, inclusive environment to learn outdoor skills.

Coach Juan’s program has been operating for three years, but his inspiration to get students involved with the outdoors goes back almost two decades to the birth of his son.

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Coach Juan pictured outside of Mountainview Elementary, the meeting place for students going to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Photo by Martin Kuprianowicz

“When I first moved into a 300-bedroom apartment complex here (on the west side) there were a lot of things happening that were not safe for kids. We had a lot of robberies, carjackings, prostitution, drugs, alcohol, so as a community advocate I had to do something for my child,” Coach Juan said.

What began as a mission to improve the quality of life for his child then translated as improving the lives of everyone in his community, especially vulnerable children on the west side of Salt Lake City. Coach Juan started a community soccer program that would eventually grow into a multifaceted, multi-partnered community outdoor program for youth.

The program focuses on helping students to pursue higher education. Coach Juan’s son went through it. Now, his grandchildren are enrolled. Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families has since grown and is now partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance, headed by former two-time Olympic ski racer Peter Vordenberg.

Vordenberg coaches ski racers who have won gold medals in the Winter Olympics and World Cup championships. In addition, he helps Coach Juan organize the single-day cross-country ski trips by providing students with everything they need to go skiing.

But he didn’t always plan to be a community advocate. It all started by chance one day when he was invited by a friend to tag along with the kids on one of these ski programs.

“I was out there hanging out with all the kids and with Coach Juan and I was like, ‘Oh man, I got to be more involved, not just take pictures but I got to see what I can do to help out.’ So, I joined the board,” Vordenberg said.

Vordenberg has been on the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families board for three years. He says that his favorite thing about being involved with the program is watching the kids develop a love for skiing and the outdoors. “It really builds their confidence and helps them dream bigger,” Vordenberg said.

Another opportunity for the west-side youth is the Parks and Recreation program that is affiliated with world-class ski areas Brighton and Snowbird. The Northwest Recreation Center is one of many centers throughout the Salt Lake Valley  that shuttle elementary and middle school students to those ski areas and provide them with gear, lift passes, and instructor training.

Snowbird Mountain School Director Maggie Loring has run this program on Fridays in the winter for 18 seasons. She said programmatic goals include developing new skiers and riders who may be interested in one day working as staff at the resorts, and providing a community service to children who may not otherwise get the opportunity to enjoy winter sports.

“One anecdote I can share is that the current manager of our programs was initially in our 4th-grade program, became a junior instructor, and kept going. It’s really an opportunity for resorts to capture both new guests and new staff,” Loring said in an email interview.

However, the impact of these programs is also a lot simpler than getting kids involved with the outdoors and setting them up for potential life paths in the ski industry.

“One of my favorite things about this program is the opportunity to see the kids pour out of the buses so excited to get onto the mountain,” Loring said. “Many of them may not be able to sleep the night before because of how excited they are for this new adventure. I remember from my own childhood how excited I was to get out of school to go skiing!”

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It’s nothing but smiles when the kids get off the bus and go skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

Keith Lopati, West High School’s outstanding softball coach

Story and photo by HUNTER THORNBURG

When West High School in Salt Lake City is searching for a new head coach for any of its athletic programs, it creates a selection committee through which all potential coaches will interview. The committee contains two student guardians, two staff members, one of the school administrators, and the athletic director. All potential hires receive the same questions from the committee, and the process is competitive.

Coach Keith Lopati in his West High School office.

Out of this selective procedure came West High School’s Varsity Softball Coach, Keith Lopati.

Lopati is a special education teacher, working specifically with the behavior unit at West High. He is heading into his eighth year of softball coaching in Spring 2020. Lopati strives to connect with his athletes and does everything he can to help the student-athletes get where they want to be. For him, it all starts with establishing the coach-player relationship.

He added that after the relationship and trust is built with his athletes, he focuses on what they’re hoping to achieve as a student-athlete, whether that be playing at the collegiate level, or simply just concentrating on self-improvement.

Lopati said, “My coaching style is really being able to build a rapport with all of the athletes that I come in contact with, whether it be female or male, and starting from there and working the ground level up.” He added, “The approach is really just to get to know them and build that relationship with them in order to understand their needs, and then go from there.”

Over the years he has coached at West High School, he says he has been fortunate to have worked with all sorts of individuals — from the top-tier athletes to those students simply looking to be a part of a team.

Student-athletes say he has significantly impacted them on and off the field.

Daisy Taloa, a senior at West High School, said Lopati is good at holding the athletes accountable and making sure they are always on top of their school work. She said he is an involved coach too. Despite keeping the athletes in line academically and athletically, Taloa also mentioned that Lopati has established engaging and fun conditions for the girls to play softball in.

Taloa said, “When we had to put pressure on ourselves to make sure our performance was our best, we’d do it, but it was fun. You didn’t ever feel like you didn’t want to play softball anymore, and he made the environment a good environment for you to want to stay in.”

Taloa added that Lopati has helped her improve as an athlete and as a student. She will play collegiate softball on a full-ride scholarship for Grand Canyon State University, located in Phoenix, following her senior year.

Another senior leader and future collegiate athlete on the team is Kensey Lopati, the coach’s daughter. Like her teammate Taloa, Kensey said her dad is involved as a head coach, and focuses on making sure the student-athletes are doing the right things on and off the field. However, Kensey said that when the girls make mistakes during practice, Lopati calmly brings it to their attention and teaches them the way to correct it.

Regarding Lopati’s approach, Kensey said, “His coaching style really is: if we want it, we’ll go get it. He’s just here teaching us and giving us the tools to succeed.”

She said that thanks to the guidance of Lopati, as a father and a coach, she will go on to play collegiate softball on a full-ride scholarship for Salt Lake Community College following her high school career.

Lopati’s success connecting with the athletes, and guiding them to triumph has not only been recognized by the student-athletes, but also by West High School’s athletic director, Rachel Townsend. She has been in the position for three years, and pays close attention to the many athletic programs the school, located at 241 N. 300 West, offers. Although she was not the athletic director when Lopati was hired, she says she’s not surprised the committee decided on him.

Townsend agrees with the student-athletes and their assessment of Lopati. She appreciates the fact that he holds the athletes accountable on and off the field.

“He has created an environment that makes people want to play here, people that aren’t really familiar with the sport. He’s also created an environment where the students know that what they put in is what they get out of it,” she said.

Townsend said Lopati has successfully coached several athletes to the collegiate level, both at Division 1, and junior college. Some of the athletes currently playing college softball include Huntyr Ava at Brigham Young University, Keisha White at North Carolina State, and Jazmyn Rollin at the University of Missouri.

Lopati won 5A state championships with his team in 2017 and 2019, and also won Coach of the Year in those seasons. Townsend attributed this success to his extensive knowledge of the game, and his ability to effectively convey that knowledge to the student-athletes.

As the 2020 season approaches, Lopati says he is planning to keep up the momentum and will continue to make efforts to connect with his athletes in order to guide them to successful futures.

The cultural significance of soccer in the Latinx community

Story and photo gallery by TYSON ALDRIDGE

Soccer, or futbol as it is called in Latin America, is the most popular sport in the Latinx community. Children from the time they are born are given a soccer ball to play with, or share a couch with a loved one to watch a game. That is why the love of soccer is so deep, it is firmly implanted in their day-to-day family lives.

Carlos Deschapelles of Univision Communications INC. explained in a 2016 article that Latinx communities have a love for soccer. “Look at the numbers: a whopping 84% of Hispanics follow the sport, compared to 47% of non-hispanics.” Deschapelles also said that 76 percent of kids and teens who watched the Copa America Centenario on Univision did so with an adult.

Grant Barnes, sports editor for the Tulane Hullabaloo, said in his 2018 article, “In 2017, Latinx people accounted for 68 percent of soccer viewership in the U.S. alone. Univision has estimated that approximately 84 percent of Latinx people follow the sport, and that they watch approximately three times as much soccer as non-Latinxs.”

It is no surprise that Latinx people in the U.S. are responsible for most of the soccer viewership in the U.S. because as Deschapelles said, “Based on U.S. census data, approximately 75% of U.S. Hispanics will find their country of origin represented by one of the teams at the Gold Cup in the Summer.” This gives the Latinx community here in the U.S. a sense of pride and excitement when their team is represented at the Gold Cup.

The U.S. does a great job of trying to keep the Latinx culture involved by hosting foreign tournaments in the U.S. Deschapelles explained, “By keeping Hispanics connected to their culture and their home country through tournaments that take place in the U.S. — like the 2016 Copa America Centenario and 2017 Gold Cup — soccer allows them to acknowledge and thrive in their duality.”

Dominic Militello is the head coach of the Cottonwood High School soccer team. Just watching the practice, it is easy to tell that these players absolutely have a burning passion for the game. Senior defender Josue Calderon said, “We were born with it, we basically grew up with our parents playing it and showing us the ways and their love for it.”

The great thing about this connection to the sport that the Latinx community has is that it brings them closer together as family and as friends. Whether it is through their local school team or club, or even recreational leagues that they play in on the weekends, they love the sense of family and community the sport brings them.

Christian Alfero, a sophomore midfielder, said that soccer has been a huge component for him and his family his whole life. He said, “I grew up watching the game and seeing the professionals on TV, and once the games were over my family would go outside and have 5 vs. 5 games.”

Brandon Morales, a sophomore defender, said, “I think it’s more like a family. It makes you act like you are actually a part of a family. You can relate to each other better because we are all Hispanic, and having that similarity with our culture makes us like each other more.”

Each of the players stressed family as the main component of their love for soccer. Sophomore forward Kody Flores said, “Ever since I was little my first toy was a ball. When you’re playing soccer it makes you feel at home.”

The Cottonwood High players’ faces lit up when talking about the competitiveness that soccer brings them within their community. Senior defender Calderon said, “We have a lot of Mexican league teams that we have friends and family playing on, and you look forward to playing against your friends.”

Soccer also brings this community a sense of pride. Morales, the sophomore defender,  said, “Mexico has always been good at soccer. It is one of the things that they are really good at and have a ton of talent when it comes to soccer. Just showing it off and displaying it feels good.”

The Cottonwood High School soccer team puts a tremendous effort toward getting better daily. They practice from 3 in the afternoon until 4:30 Monday through Friday, with games mixed in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The team has Latinx representation, and as result, spectators can see the passion go from them to the rest of the team. Coach Militello pushes his team to succeed. And that is shown through constant instruction and coaching to ensure each player is doing their best. Sophomore defender Alejandro Barahona, said, “Being on this team and playing soccer makes us more like a family, and brings us closer together as a team.”

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Redefining service in a spirit of kindness and empowerment

Story and slideshow by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders (PI) believe that what is best for the village is best for the individual. This value system instills a spirit of empathy, generosity and kindness. This is particularly evident in the types of service we see from local members of the PI community. These individuals redefine service through the work that they do as a way of life.

Puna Fatanitavake is a former teacher at Mana Academy Charter School, where she enjoyed teaching second graders. Previously she taught at Liahona High School in Tonga. Fatanitavake moved to Utah in 2015 with two young children and a third on the way to be closer to her mother and pursue more education.

Because of her service to her students, religion and family, Fatanitavake feels that her life is blessed. “Serving helps me be the strong woman I am right now. The love I had for these kids and the good I could do for them, I didn’t expect anything in return because I knew that God would bless me,” she said.

Fatanitavake also explained how every decision she has ever made was for others — the people in her Tongan village, her children, her mother, her former students and current community. She participates in local service through her religion which allows her to serve while also educating and empowering children on how they can be successful and follow their dreams like she is currently doing by attending LDS Business College.

Ulysses Tongaonevai has also dedicated his career to serving youth in his community. Tongaonevai is a conduct hearing officer for The Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Utah where he also instructs courses for PI students as an adjunct professor. Before working at the university, Tongaonevai worked for local government with youth from at-risk homes.

“I’m here to advocate for these individuals or groups,” he explained. “I’ve done things in the community from cultural awareness, higher ed awareness, I’ve created programs to help young people graduate high school and connect with resources.”

Tongaonevai grew up in the inland empire of Southern California in a single-parent household and did not always know where to turn for help. “Because of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, I feel like I need to give back because I’ve been given much,” he said.

One of these programs that Tongaonevai created with his wife, Kalo, is called Teine Malohi, a competitive fast pitch softball program for PI girls. They chose this name because “Teine” is Samoan for “girl” and “Malohi” is Tongan for “strong.”

This girl power program was founded in 2016 and has been sponsored by Royal Outreach, West High School Softball, Uplift Foundation Inc. and the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. They practice and hold events for the teams at The Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.

Teine Malohi softball has participants from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including: West Valley, Glendale, Poplar Grove, Rose Park, Herriman, West Jordan, South Jordan, Murray, Taylorsville, Salt Lake City, Bountiful, North Salt Lake and Centerville. There are 53 girls total who participate in three separate age-grouped teams ranging from age 8-14.

Teine Malohi provides an opportunity to be physically active while interacting with the community. It also focuses on affordability (scholarships and equipment), player development, academics, culture, empowerment, student-athlete experiences and college prep.

“We also include a community aspect, not only just within the Pacific islander community, but we encourage the players to do some type of voluntary service in the neighborhoods that they live in, and for them to also connect to their legislative representatives,” Tongaonevai said.

With the goal of empowering young women, the Tongaonevais have been able to create this thriving program that teaches young women from all over the Salt Lake Valley how they can serve their communities. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have the understanding of those resources or how to look for them, I didn’t know they existed,” Tongaonevai recalled. As a result, he has spent his entire adulthood advocating for youth and connecting them to resources.

The PI view is that we are all connected and so it’s important that everyone helps each other to find happiness and success. Community activist Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou co-founded an organization called Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “All of our goals encompass helping, educating and empowering,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. PIK2AR focuses on economics, cultural preservation and domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou seeks to provide services for people of PI background because of her childhood, where she felt disconnected from her roots. By providing knowledge, connection and empowerment to the community, Feltch-Malohifo’ou is able to help orchestrate support groups, a business alliance and cultural community events.

Fatanitavake, Tongaonevai and Feltch-Malohifo’ou each described service as part of everyday life. They don’t separate service into a task to accomplish, or some way to balance the scales. Service is organic, it is a way of life.

These Utahn Pacific Islander leaders each seek not only to serve, but to empower others. Empowering others teaches them to take control of their lives, enabling them to be their best selves. This is the Pacific Island way, believing that we are all in this journey together and the success of one, is the success of all.

 

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