The 14 Japanese players (13 boys and one girl) on the Boilero team arrived on Wednesday along with several parents and coaches and are staying with local families for 10 days of sightseeing and soccer. The two teams practiced and enjoyed a swimming party yesterday and will visit the CornFest today, Friday, to check out the events and fireworks.
Tomorrow they’ll be on the field before the game at a San Jose Earthquakes match, and on Sunday will play in a round-robin tournament in Concord. After that they’ll be sightseeing in San Francisco, catching the rides at Six Flags in Vallejo and checking out the airplanes at the Napa Valley airport.
Val Huerta, an Oakley resident and assistant coach of USA Force, has been working for much of the past year to plan the exchange (next year the local kids will be hosted in Japan). When asked why he’s gone to all the trouble, Huerta, who spent his first 15 years in Mexico, said, “I want to have the kids to understand a different culture and to understand the importance of other people’s culture. That’s the main thing.
“Besides, we combine this with something we love to do, which is play soccer. We’ll go back to Japan next year. We’ll stay in their homes and live their normal lives – what they eat and do in Japan. I’ve never been in Japan. We’re excited right now. My son has a DVD to see if he could learn a little bit of Japanese.”
Learning about another culture is part of the educational emphasis that Huerta wants to instill in local youth, particularly those he coaches on the USA Force team and at Delta Vista Middle School in Oakley. He decided to get involved at the middle school level after seeing that there was a lot of soccer talent at the high school level but that the players were struggling to succeed academically.
“I know the coaches from Freedom High School very well,” said Huerta. “I said, ‘Look, the only way we’ll teach the kids that education should be a number-one priority is for me to coach back in middle school.’ It’s not all about playing a sport but about education. I said (to the players), ‘You’re very good, but I hope you can understand: if you don’t have very good grades, you won’t make the next level, which is high school or college.’ At least three players approached me and said it was a very good experience and they want to do better for high school because they love to play the sport. I said, ‘Definitely education has to be number one.’”
USA Force, a coed team of 14 players mostly under the age of 12, begins its season in a couple of months. For now they’re focused on helping make the Japanese team’s visit as enjoyable as possible.
“It’s not easy; it’s been a lot of work from day one,” said Huerta. “I really appreciate the support, especially from the parents involved in this program. They’re very excited like me. I wish more people will consider this as an option to support this in future years. I think it can be an incredible experience for you personally and for others. Hopefully, we’ll continue this program in the future.”