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Ready to Play the Best, Alisal Soccer Team Needs Help Getting to LA

courtesy: Mark Cisneros
Alisal High School's Varsity Soccer team (white) playing a game earlier this month.

With gangs, poverty and overcrowding, Salinas’ Alisal neighborhood can be a tough place to grow up.  For some kids, their refuge is sports. 

At Alisal High School, the boys Varsity soccer team is one of the best in the region and currently ranks 19th in the state.  This winter break the team has been invited to Los Angeles to play the top three teams (Cathedral, Loyola and Paramount) in California. 

It is only the second time the team has made the trip primary because it is so expensive.  I spoke with Alisal Soccer Coach Mark Cisneros who estimates it will cost about $5000 to take the team on this six day trip.  So he started an online Go Fund Me campaign.

Mark Cisneros (MC): I didn’t expect too much from it, but we ended up getting $2500 from families and friends and community members and businesses.  That was really cool.  And then a couple ag companies have stepped up and donated money. We went on a radio station, Spanish radio, and we got about $500 there. All that’s going to pay for, you know, is the kids need jackets.  You know we freeze at our games.  We don’t have any jackets.  We’ve been using the same uniforms for four years, so it’s going to buy us uniforms.  You know even give us an opportunity to get more hotel rooms.  As it is right now, we have three hotel rooms for 25 guys that we’re going to try cram in, but I think with a few more bucks that come in we can maybe get a few more hotel rooms. And we were leaving on the day of the game, to save a night’s stay in a hotel.  So that’s another thing we are trying to figure out.  Maybe we can get there the night before.   You know we’ve gotta get our gas money, our food.  So yeah, it’s a lot.  It’s been fun actually talking to everybody trying to get the boys down there.

KA: As your team financial struggles to make this trip happen, do you play against others who by comparison seem to have it easy?

MC: We see that all the time.  Like we’re going down to play Loyola.  Loyola is number one, number two in the nation.  They’re a big Catholic powerhouse.  And they are always decked out in the best soccer uniforms: matching jackets, matching warm-ups,  matching shoes.  And then we roll in and we roll in with miss matched jackets from different professional teams and no sweats, nothing, we’re freezing.  But the beauty of this team, we get there. We look like that.  We look like just a rag bunch of kids showing up, and then we end up winning.  And we get on the bus and we’re singing, top of our lungs, all these Spanish songs on the way home.  And I’m happy and the kids are happy.  Yeah it’s cool. 

KA: What touches you?  What gets you about the experience?

MC:  I know a lot of the boys on a personal level. And I know they deal with a lot of things, so we’re able to get down there and give them an experience like this, and see a different part of the world that they’re not used to seeing.   This town that we live in where we work, it’s a tough town.  It’s a really tough town.  Guys on our team have had brothers murdered, and family members murdered and jailed. It’s just any time we can give them something different, something that gets them out of their fight or flight mode.  Let’s them be at peace for a little bit and be with each other smiling, laughing and singing and doing what they love, which is soccer.  They love it.  This is like just a passion a burning passion that they have.  And because they love it, I love it. 

KA: Why does this trip matter?  What will playing in LA do for your team?

MC:  It’s one of the rare times that we get an opportunity to play outside our area. We are usually confined to the tri-county area, Santa Clara County. And we play the big schools here. We’ve been doing that for a number of years, and we’ve been pretty successful.  Once and while we’ll get an invitation to go down to LA to play the best teams in the nation, not just in California and the nation.  We’ve done it once.   A few years ago in San Clemente we went down to play the number one team in California at that time.  We were number three in the nation.  They were number two in the nation.  And we went down there and we had a really good showing. We ended the game 1,1. Out of that trip, a couple of our guys got scouted to Universities and they’re working on transcripts and trying to get there right now.  That’s what we’re hoping this time.  To go down there and get some exposure for the boys and to put Alisal and Salinas on the map  down there in the soccer world.

Mark Cisneros is the head coach of the Alisal High School Varsity Boys Soccer team in Salinas. He’s raising money for his team’s trip through Go Fund Me.   Cisneros hopes to raise enough (about $7000), so they can also to bring the Junior Varsity soccer team on the trip.   

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.