We had dreamed of this for four years, but when it happened we were still scared. Crawford High, the most diverse high school in California, was ready for us…but were we ready for them?
The Hoover cross-country team had grown in size and strength, and my husband Tlaloc and I had developed into coaches who were ready to take on our own team. There were more than a few challenges: Crawford hadn’t had a full competing team in 13 years, despite many newly arrived refugee students with undeveloped talent. We would be starting from scratch with students who had never heard of cross-country. We would be leaving Chris Brewster at Hoover High with a large team…but no assistant coach. We would have to stretch resources (vans, money, and tutoring volunteers) between two teams…would it be possible? We stepped forward in faith, believing that God would graciously provide for our needs.
And He did!
Telling the Hoover students was difficult for us, because we love them and their families so much! However, they really understand the vision of City Heights Runners and the need at Crawford. As Mirella Cruz said, "You gotta share the love, Coach." They thanked us and promised to continue to build a caring, supportive family culture of excellence. Hoover now has three assistant coaches including Spanish speakers, female coaches, and even a teacher at Hoover…all our bases are covered! Sharing resources has been a delicate dance, but things always work out. And the success of the Crawford team has blown us away!
We started coaching cross-country at Crawford six months ago, but God started working in our students’ lives many years ago. The team, which is almost entirely brand-new runners, has developed a really sweet family environment. These young athletes are refugees and immigrants, people who have been displaced and discarded by conflict in their home countries, only to arrive to a neighborhood familiar with violence and struggle and an educational system that is indifferent to their success or failure. They have created the family that they longed for within the team. They bring food for each other, cheer for each other at both meets and in school, and demonstrate amazing patience as they work to overcome language and cultural barriers to reach a common goal.
As coaches, we try to communicate the value that they have in God’s eyes through small practical actions. Every day, we bring fruit for a post-practice snack, we open our doors to feed hungry harriers multiple times weekly, we organize pool parties and movie nights for team bonding, we talk with their parents, and we help them reframe their difficult circumstances in a more hopeful light. The high value we place on the students as beloved children of God seems to be contagious, and the kids pass it on in the way that they treat each other. Many of the runners have expressed that this is the best team they have ever been part of the because it feels like their teammates and coaches really care about them, and many have committed to running during the off-season instead of playing other sports.
For being first-time athletes, the kids have really surprised us with their perseverance, resilience….and talent! On the boy’s side, Crawford went undefeated in league competition and now are the City League Champions for the first time since 2003, besides strong showings in invitations scattered across southern California. With the ladies, we had the first full scoring team since 2003 and took 3rd place in the City League. We hope that these brave ladies (who have overcome so many barriers just to join a sport!) are the vanguard of a new generation of female athletes from our neighborhood.
The unexpected success of the team has brought a flourishing of hope to the school. Teachers, administrators, security guards, alumni and other students congratulate the runners on their success. The janitors eagerly ask how the team is doing as they open up their office so we can get ice for a post-workout trash-can ice bath. Families come cheer at the races and generously supply food for all our events. We want this bright new hope to have staying power. It is hope to envision things not yet seen, to move forward together, to support each other, to be a transformed community. But these things are not yet fully a reality.
Students still struggle at Crawford to not only be eligible, but to thrive academically. Female runners face incredible obstacles before even stepping foot on the track. But you can make a difference for these athletes. By supporting UrbanLife, you give each runner a taste of a new future. Every dollar you give that buys running shoes or puts gas in our vans makes a real difference for students at this struggling inner-city school. Let's partner together to keep these kids running!