EVERETT — A retired Everett police officer left a legacy on W. Casino Road.
Every summer, hundreds of kids get together to play soccer at Walter E. Hall Park. Officers join in while sharing lessons about growing up to be a good person, both on and off the field.
Retired police Sgt. Manny Garcia founded the Casino Road Futbol Academy nine years ago. He knew the neighborhood well. For years, he patrolled the area.
“He has a vision for the community,” said Jesus Flores, a 19-year-old coach and former camper. “He left his legacy. He left his camp.”
Many kids who stuck with the soccer academy went on to become first-generation college students, Flores said. He is the first person in his family to graduate high school and he now attends Washington State University.
Flores’ mother signed him up for the inaugural camp, which drew about 50 kids. The camp is now capped at 300 spots and fills up fast.
For $20, campers receive a T-shirt and a soccer ball. The Mukilteo School District serves breakfast and lunch for the week. Children also are given a one-year membership to the Boys &Girls Club of Snohomish County.
They spend the week practicing drills and scrimmaging. Each day, campers sit down with police officers to chat about sportsmanship, healthy choices and what they call “no stinkin’ thinkin’.”
It’s also a time for curious minds.
On Thursday, a shy boy pointed to an officer’s vest, asking about the gadgets in the pockets. The officer pulled a flashlight and shined it at the group, saying “AHA.” The kids in matching green shirts giggled.
Flores said his campers often are told that boys aren’t supposed to cry. He reminds them having emotions is being human. He also tells them the little things matter, such as saying “Thank you” and picking up litter.
Flores invites campers to play soccer at the park after the academy ends for the summer. When Flores was younger, the camp and the people he met put him on a good path, he said.
“If I got in trouble, I didn’t want the police officers to recognize me,” Flores said.
Many camp volunteers are school resource officers. Kids often recognize the officers’ faces in their school hallways.
Flores hopes to become a police officer one day.
“I’d like to come back to the community that helped me so much,” Flores said.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.