U.S. Soccer Players Score Big for Public School Students

By Collin Berglund

The U.S. team may be out of World Cup contention, but members of Major League Soccer teams from around the country are beloved no less by schoolchildren from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.

Why? Because the athletes are better known to the kids for participating in NEA’s Read Across America program and related school-boosting events. In fact, the Read Across program alone unites in common purpose some very competitive athletes from teams including Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy.

This year, Real Salt Lake denied the Galaxy an unbeaten record going into the World Cup break. Last year, Real Salt Lake defied even larger odds and defeated the Galaxy to win the 2009 Major League Soccer Cup. This unlikely championship came after Real Salt Lake barely scraped into the playoffs on the last day of the season with a losing record.

Despite their busy schedules, Real Salt Lake took a time-out to participate in Read Across America, which calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2 — Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Leo the Lion, Real’s mascot, attended Read Across day at Monte Vista Elementary School in Utah. The goal? Encourage students to think of reading with as much excitement as some think of sports.

Also in attendance were the soccer players who know that children all over the world often face long odds when it comes to getting a quality education.

“It’s good to show the kids that all these athletes grew up like them,” says Real Salt Lake goalie Kyle Reynish. “It gives them inspiration that anyone can get to where we are.”

Many athletes used college as a springboard to get into their professional sport. They acknowledge that without a quality education, sports would not have been an option.

“I took pride in my education and it’s a huge reason I made it to where I am now,” Reynish says.  “If I didn’t make the grades I did, I wouldn’t have been able to get into college and I wouldn’t be [in the MLS] right now.”

(And for some, education hits very close to home. World Cup star Landon Donovan’s mother is a special education teacher and NEA member!)

The LA Galaxy are heavily involved in the Global Campaign for Education and the NEA-sponsored 1GOAL program. 1GOAL brings together education activists, players and fans, through soccer, using the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a rallying point for quality global education. (Check out video of actress Jessica Alba and NEA Vice-president Lily Eskelsen kicking off a 1GOAL event on Capitol Hill earlier this year.)

And out in Los Angeles, Galaxy players — including Landon Donovan — signed a banner supporting 1GOAL while visiting Nimitz Middle School in California.

Supporters of these players’ work off the field now have a way to say thank you.

The Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation, the charitable arm of the LA Galaxy is competing to win a grant through the Chase Community Giving program running on Facebook. The Galaxy Foundation is committed to encouraging, educating, and empowering at-risk and underserved children in the community. Please cast your vote to help ensure the Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation is one of the top 200 charities that will win. There are just two weeks left to vote!

Inside photo: LA Galaxy players Edson Buddle, Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant at the Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation and The Home Depot Center Charitable Foundation’s Reading Garden Build at Stephen C. Foster Elementary School. The foundation partnered with The Lorax Student Earth Day for the Reading Garden Challenge and NEA donated to the school. Sheri Miyamoto/California Teachers Association
Cover photo: LA Galaxy player Todd Dunivant reads to students. Robert Mora/LA Galaxy