Soccer program scores at Carson City’s Empire Elementary |

Soccer program scores at Carson City’s Empire Elementary

Teri Vance

In order to participate in Empire Elementary School’s intramural soccer club, Abby Diaz, 10, pledged to improve her reading scores.

“Last time I got a 55,” she reported. “This time, it was 90. I practiced more and I listened to the teacher.”

That was the goal, said Nathan Brigham, the school’s reading specialist who organized the program.

Brigham, who played college soccer and coached it at Carson High School, came up with the idea in collaboration with Ian Hill, from Let Them Be Kids.

“Soccer is big with kids in the community and specifically in our school,” Brigham said. “But we wanted the focus to be on behavior and academics.”

Brigham opened it up to all fifth-graders and said 94 percent of them chose to participate. In order to enroll in the soccer club, students had to set an academic or behavioral goal to be met each week.

“If they don’t meet the goal, they don’t get to play,” Brigham said.

He said they included a broad range such as turning in 90 percent of homework or taking less frequent bathroom breaks.

“It’s been good. The kids are taking it very seriously,” he said. “They’re making sure they’re meeting their goals.”

Students were assigned to teams and are responsible for remembering their own jerseys and schedule of games, which are held over their lunch break.

“The kids run themselves,” Brigham said.

They referee their own games and keep their own score as a means to promote leadership and sportsmanship.

“We had a blast actually,” said Cristian Rodriguez, 10. “When we make goals, we celebrate, but we also give cheers to the other team. They gave a good fight for it.”

Brigham said once the data is collected and presented to the Carson City School District, he hopes other schools will adopt similar programs. Eventually, he’d like to see teams competing against other schools.

“If you ask the kids, it’s about the soccer,” Brigham said. “If you ask the teachers, it’s about the academic and behavior goals.”

However, that’s not always true. Danny Cazares, 10, set a goal to write complete sentences, and said that was more important to him than the games.

“Education comes first,” he said.