[pullquote_right width=”60%”]They were already coming, so he built it. [/pullquote_right]
It’s hard to imagine a normal day without soccer at the Don Bosco Center.
Father Ramon Dominguez, YA, the center’s director, describes the first hour at the afterschool program, located in the Georgetown South Community Center in Manassas, Va., as “homeworky.” But once most of the teens are ready to put away their books and finish their snacks, the balls begin to fly.
Until recently, that meant hopeless wear and tear on the meadow that stretched behind the community center building, which Father Ramon remembers as “a large expanse of dirt.” Now, thanks to a childhood obesity prevention grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, the kids can play on an artificial turf field in just about any weather.
And they do.
The $60,000 grant covered the field materials, drainage system, grading and installation, an equipment storage shed and portable nets that Father Ramon says don’t go up until it’s time to play. The funds also pay for staff salaries and the fresh fruit and vegetables the DBC serves at snack time.
While the DBC youths had already given the field a few workouts to test its all-weather performance, the center hosted a formal dedication ceremony in November to honor Miguel “Mickey” Hernandez, a 15-year-old student who was killed one year earlier in a gang-related attack between Osbourn High School and his Georgetown South home.
Hernandez was not in a gang and had been trying to avoid gang involvement. He was a participant in DBC activities that included homework help, positive character development and — of course — soccer with his friends at the old, sloping field.
A granite monument depicting Hernandez along with quotes from Saint John Bosco and the Prayer of Saint Francis — acknowledging two of Youth Apostles’ three patron saints — will remind visitors of the teen who had spent so many happy hours at the site.
“Miguel was a tremendous young man,” Father Ramon says. “His life should not go unnoticed. I hope that as others play and enjoy this space, they will see the good things in this community and be inspired to live a life that is remembered by truth and hope. A life mired in violence will never bring lasting joy or fulfillment.”
Finding a place to play the favorite game of many local children had been difficult. School fields in the area are reserved for official practices and games. While the Georgetown South field is not full size, it is open to the public for soccer, football and other games whenever the DBC isn’t using it.
“We are happy to be able to provide funds to create a new play space for children in Manassas,” VFHY Executive Director Marty Kilgore said in a statement. “Research shows that it is imperative for children to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.”
Father Ramon hopes the field will also support training and skill development for the teams he takes to soccer tournaments around the diocese. “They want to win,” he notes with a chuckle.