Separated from soccer during pandemic, teen now gives back to next generation of players

Watch "Our America: Fifty50" on your local ABC station or wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku

ByJulian Glover via KFSN logo
Friday, June 17, 2022
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During the pandemic, Mirian Rodriguez lost her sanctuary on the soccer field. Now she's back -- mentoring the next generation of players.

SAN FRANCISCO -- When asked about her favorite soccer memory, 15-year-old San Francisco native Mirian Rodriguez was quick to dish.

"It was a penalty kick and we were tied in the last minutes of the game. I was goalie and I stopped the ball," Rodriguez said. "Everybody went crazy. I felt strong because I was out on the field doing something I thought I couldn't do."

It was Rodriguez's family that first got her out on the soccer field shortly after she could walk, letting her kick the ball around with her older brother.

Her mom knew she had to get her daughter on the soccer field to play with an organized team.

Rodriguez said she had a tough time finding the right girls' soccer team before learning about the Jamestown Community Center.

Jamestown Community Center is an organization in San Francisco's Mission District that offers programs for youth and families -- from recreation and organized sports teams to family support.

"Mirian just jumped right in. She was very vocal and outgoing. She mirrored a lot of behaviors I would do, as far as trying to pump up the girls or any type of game strategy," said Ariel Esqueda, the Jamestown Community Center sports director.

Over the years, Rodriguez said Esqueda has become a second mother to her -- a role model and source of encouragement as she learned and grew both on and off the field.

"I like the way that soccer makes me feel because being in school, there's a lot of problems," Rodriguez said. "Mentally I'm not in a good space when I'm in school just because of all the kids around me."

Rodriguez is living with anxiety, and the soccer field is one of the few places she feels the most herself.

"I used to come to the soccer field. It would just get me out of my head, and I could just focus on winning," she said.

But when her bedroom became the classroom and sports were put on hold in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez lost her sanctuary on the soccer field.

When health officials lifted COVID restrictions, her team struggled to come back together.

"I wanted to come back, but there wasn't a lot of girls who wanted to return. Things didn't work out," she said.

Esqueda recognized Rodriguez's desire to return to the field, so she offered the teen the opportunity to work with younger soccer players during a summer clinic.

"She's very responsible. I saw that, and I wanted to make sure I gave her a space to continue doing that. Seeing her be able to coach and lead is pretty cool. This is why I'm here," Esqueda said.

After her success during the summer soccer clinic, Esqueda welcomed Rodriguez back to continue working with younger girls during the season as an assistant coach.

"My favorite thing about working with younger girls was just having fun. We all learn from each other, and I'm learning from them too," Rodriguez said. "I'm learning patience. What I teach them will help them when they're older."

Esqueda said she's grateful that Rodriguez has stepped in as a role model for the younger players, opening up a field of possibilities for them to dream and achieve.

"Seeing a young girl, a person of color, being able to make those connections and be in a leadership role so these girls can see that they too can potentially become a referee or coach is a big deal," Esqueda said.

"These kids are going to be in my spot one day," Rodriguez said. "They're going to be teaching other kids one day, and I feel like it's cool because I want this to keep going. I don't want this to stop."

It's been a long journey for girls and women to gain equal access to sports, with still so much work to be done.

SEE ALSO: What is Title IX?

It was only 50 years ago that Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark civil rights law widely known for its strides toward gender equity for women and girls who play sports.

"It's crazy that we're already 50 years deep into it," Esqueda said. "I only hope that it continues to open the eyes of others so that things continue to change in the right direction. There's a lot of girls out there who have that potential and have that ability, and it's just someone giving them that chance."

For Rodriguez, she's looking forward to the day when more women's sports are televised and the media gives equal coverage to all genders playing sports.

"My message would just be: Go for it. I went for it, and I feel like there's a lot of opportunities now," she said. "I hope there will always be opportunities for young women to do soccer and just sports in general."

Watch Sofia Carson host "Our America: Fifty50," an ABC Owned Television Stations special commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, on your local ABC station (click here to check local listings) or wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku.