Students step in as volunteer coaches for Twin City Youth Soccer Association

Soccer volunteers

Wake Forest law students volunteer for the Twin City Youth Soccer Association’s recreational league.

 The young boys run at breakneck speed in seemingly random fashion, bumping and jostling, colliding and tumbling. Suddenly, one breaks from a pack and the soccer ball comes with him. He keeps it on his right foot long enough to tap home into the net.

“All right, that was a good job,’’ comes the encouragement from Tim Mohan, coach of the Sprinters. “You kicked it in with the inside of your foot, right?’’

That’s what Mohan, a first-year student at Wake Forest University School of Law, had been working on with his 7-year-olds in practice before this scrimmage with the Bulldogs, a team coached by Erika Moses, a second-year law student.

The teams are part of the Twin City Youth Soccer Association’s recreational league, and the law students answered a call that helped bail out the association this spring. The league has become so popular and grown so quickly in recent years that this spring it was short of coaches.

Ten law students are now coaching youth soccer as a result of third-year law student Jamie Turnage putting out a mass email to her classmates. Turnage had worked as an assistant for the association last fall and also coached a girls’ team.

“That’s the toughest part of running the rec program, finding volunteer coaches,’’ said Scott Wollaston, the soccer association’s recreation director. “Parents are so busy these days, even if they want to coach a kids’ team they don’t have time, so it’s a blessing to have the Wake kids do this.

“It’s the biggest deal that this happened this spring. I don’t know what we would do without them, frankly.’’

‘Something I knew would be fun’

For the law students, coaching provides welcome relief from the rigors of law studies, and is a good outlet.

“It has been a hard time during my first year to find time for non-law school activities during the school week,’’ said Mohan, who hopes to focus on tax or corporate law as a career. “I think there is personal pressure to be focused on doing law school work or doing a law-related activity to find summer employment. I just had to say to myself that coaching a soccer team once a week wasn’t going to hurt my studies, and it was something I knew would be fun.’’

Likewise, Moses said it’s important for law students not to get too caught up in studies.

“If it’s something you enjoy doing, you can make time for it,’’ she said. “There is definitely a lot of work in law school but you need to add some fun into the mix to stay well-balanced. I have plenty of law-related activities going on right now – so it’s nice to be doing something outside of that.’’

First-year law student Michael Miranda said coaching the kids is “a nice break from ‘real life.’  Little kids can teach you a lot about what’s important in life; watching them run around reminds me that sometimes it’s important to take the time to play and have some fun.”

Some of the volunteers, such as Turnage, had youth and high school or college careers playing soccer. Others, including Moses, didn’t.

“I’m not particularly good at soccer, and I haven’t played since middle school, but the program sounded fun and I was happy to be able to help kids,’’ said Moses, who hopes to make her career in health or juvenile law.

A background in soccer is not critical to coaching kids in rec soccer. The aspiring coaches got all the training they needed to teach at the youth level at a clinic before the spring season began, and those who didn’t make the clinic met with Wollaston to go review the curriculum used to teach kids.

‘Needs of the community come first’

That Wake Forest law students are filling a need in the community is nothing new. For years, with the encouragement of professors and administrators, the students have taken up helping out through pro bono and volunteer activities.

They have, among many efforts, assisted at the Hanes Hosiery Community Center with after-school tutoring and youth league basketball, done tutoring at Kimberley Park Elementary School, and helped collect books to start a library at the Carter G. Woodson Charter School.

Professor Beth Hopkins was hired last July as director of outreach with a mission to direct the law school’s pro-bono program, which is intended to make students aware of law careers that will foster the public interest.

Hopkins obtained her undergraduate degree from Wake Forest in 1973 and later her juris doctorate from William and Mary Law School. She said that while attending Wake Forest, six or seven African-American students became involved, together with students at Winston-Salem State University, with a program called the People’s House in which they went on Saturdays to help fix breakfast for children and then read to or tutor them.

“We were just trying to be good role models for children in the community and we encouraged them to do well in school and go to school and have a meaningful impact on those around them,’’ she said. “When we left Wake Forest, we felt we had done something positive for the community.’’

Now, a strong piece of Hopkins’ duties include improving outreach in the community on behalf of all of Wake Forest, graduate and undergraduate students.

“We have an unusual group of students,’’ she said, “passionate about serving the community. My job is to make sure I channel their talents and their desires into a productive program. If I have a challenge, it’s coming up with enough innovative ideas … that students can work in the areas that give them the most pleasure and give them experience.

“Because the needs of the community come first.’’

To a person, the law students serving as soccer coaches in the Twin City rec league, say they’re happy to help the community. It’s also clear that being a volunteer coach is about having fun – for them and their young charges.

“Anything I can do to help the kids have fun and learn the fundamentals of soccer is extremely rewarding to me,’’ Moses said.

“Coaching middle school girls was terrifying at first, but the girls are awesome!’’ said Katie King, who is an assistant coach working with Turnage. “They’re so much fun to be around; it’s a chance to get away from schoolwork and just play.

“Coaching is a reminder that there’s more than school out there,’’ she said. “The girls remind us to shed our lawyer-ly clothes and have fun. You won’t find more spirit and tenacity anywhere else.’’