The giant oak on the edge of the pristine soccer fields at Saint David’s School facility is a parent’s best friend.
The cloudless blue sky leaves the adults looking for shade, but the unyielding sun on a recent Saturday morning does nothing to deter the kids who come out to play soccer in the “Raleigh Futbol 4 All” program run by Jose Cornejo and George Tarantini.
“This is my favorite part,” Lisber Garcia says with sweat running down his cheek and while trying to catch his breath. “Just getting out here and playing soccer with other kids is the best.”
Garcia, 10, is one of about 60 children, between the ages of 7 and 13, who regularly come to Saint David’s facility off Yonkers Road in Raleigh to participate in the program started in 2013 by Cornejo, who teaches and coaches soccer for the K-12 school, and Tarantini, the retired N.C. State’s men’s soccer coach.
When the two longtime friends came up with the the name, “futbol 4 all,” they meant it. Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay, Ecuador and the Congo are all represented. Cary, Raleigh, Clayton, Holly Springs, Garner – all corners of the Triangle are covered, too.
Cornejo plans to split them up and play a mini version of the World Cup at 10 a.m. at St. David’s on Saturday and have a cookout afterward to celebrate.
Opportunity to play
The inspiration for the organization was simple.
“Soccer is ‘pay to play’ and I wanted to give kids who couldn’t pay an opportunity to play,” Cornejo said.
So Cornejo and Tarantini decided to run their own soccer group open to all parts of the community for free.
Parents bring their children to the facility at 10 a.m. Cornejo, along with some of the players from his team at Saint David’s, and Tarantini run them through drills for about an hour and then they finish with games.
There is a personal element to the program that motivates both Cornejo and Tarantini. Cornejo, born in Columbia, and Tarantini, from Argentina, both attribute their success in this country to soccer and the doors the sport opened to them.
“I was given an opportunity and I took advantage of that,” said Tarantini, 65, who coached at N.C. State for 29 years, the final 25 as the head coach from 1986-2010.
“Soccer has given me everything,” said Cornejo, who has coached at Saint David’s for 20 years and before that was an assistant women’s coach at N.C. State and head coach at Meredith College.
Soccer is ‘pay to play’ and I wanted to give kids who couldn’t pay an opportunity to play.
They met in New York when Cornejo’s junior college team from Suffolk County beat Tarantini’s Dutchess County team.
Tarantini got a job at N.C. State in 1982 as an assistant. Wolfpack basketball coach Jim Valvano used to tease Tarantini, who was born in Italy but grew up in Argentina, about his accent.
“Jimmy would say, ‘You speak funny,’ ” Tarantini said, pointing out Valvano was the son of Italian immigrants. “You can be a taxi driver or you can coach at N.C. State.”
After four years as an assistant, Tarantini became the head coach in 1986. He got a call soon after from Cornejo, who had moved to the Triangle from New York.
Cornejo worked for Tarantini’s soccer camp and eventually was hired as an assistant for the women’s program for three years.
Cornejo, 60, marvels at how far soccer has taken him. His father, Luis, moved the family from Bogota to Queens, N.Y., in 1970.
Luis Cornejo worked for New York City in the housing authority and delivered The New York Times early every morning to help put his six children through college.
Hard work, not some game for kids, is what the elder Cornejo preached. At 14, Jose started playing soccer in a men’s league at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and eventually found his way to Suffolk County Community College.
“Where’s soccer going to get you?” Cornejo’s father used to ask him.
Both Cornejo and Tarantini know the answer to the elder Cornejo’s question. Now they want the latest generation of Latino immigrants to get the same chance that they had.
Youth soccer has become big business. The most competitive teams in the bigger organizations, like Capital Area Soccer League, can cost as much as $1,900 a year, and that doesn’t include additional costs for uniforms or travel to tournaments.
There are scholarships available in most leagues, but for the most part, the players in “Raleigh Futbol 4 All” have few options. Transportation and the language barrier are additional obstacles.
Cornejo has worked with “Neighbor to Neighbor” a community outreach program out of Millbrook United Methodist Church, to find interested players.
WhatsApp, a messaging application on smart phones, has also helped boost the group’s participation numbers.
Cornejo has a website (RaleighFutbol4all.com) and has started the process of creating a nonprofit cooperation. He’s hoping to apply for grants from the United States Soccer Federation so he can get uniforms and other equipment.
“These kids love soccer and they just want to be a part of something,” Cornejo said. “It’s going to take some work but I know we can go forward and grow it.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio