Chapman University opens stadium for OC GRIP Soccer Camp, which serves at-risk youth

By Lou Ponsi

The scene at Wilson Field on the Chapman University campus in Orange was nothing short of remarkable.

Dozens of elementary school kids were playing soccer in a stadium usually reserved for college athletes, and the kids were high-fiving with the Orange police officers and Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were coaching them.

This was the OC GRIP program in action.

Orange PD Officer Augie Rocha (SWAT/Honor Guard) challenges 11-year-old Elyse Morales to push-ups during soccer camp.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

OC GRIP is an acronym for Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, and the program is exactly what the name implies. The partnership includes the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, and schools, all joining forces to get children at risk of joining gangs back on the right path.

The three-day soccer camp culminated April 4 at Chapman University and included about 120 kids from Orange, Anaheim, Garden Grove, and Stanton schools. The camp was designed to keep the youngsters occupied during spring break.

Kids gather for instructions at soccer camp.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela was among the local dignitaries who spoke to the players.

“We’re here to help you,” Kisela said. “If you ever need anything from us, all you have to do is ask and we’ll be there to help.”

Kids practice their skills at a soccer camp at Chapman University.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange PD School Resource Officer Augie Rocha, who assists with the GRIP program for Orange PD, sees a difference in the kids’ attitudes after working with them for just three days.

“They are like my kids,” Rocha said. “They need positive reinforcement. I’ve told them that it takes so much more effort to be negative than to be positive. We’re trying to bring them into a team concept.”

Elyse Morales, 11, has fun with Orange PD Officer Augie Rocha during soccer camp.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Assistant District Attorney Tracy Miller, who administers GRIP for the Orange Unified School District, said children go to school in gang neighborhoods that aren’t too far from Chapman University.

“Bringing them on campus changes the way they view the world,” Miller said.

Orange Police Chief Thomas Kisela talks to Chapman University President Daniele Struppa during the welcoming ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

When organizing the soccer camp, GRIP purposely makes teams composed of kids from different cities, Miller said.

“We mix them together so that they know they don’t have to hate kids from different cities,” she said. “They are just like them.”

Officers work with kids during soccer camp at Chapman University.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Chapman University rarely opens its athletic facilities to programs not connected to the university, but University President Daniele Struppa said it was easy to make an exception for GRIP.

Orange Police Chief Thomas Kisela, left, Founder and Chief of Play Maker Tony Everett, O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Chapman University President Daniele Struppa, and O.C. Chief Probation Officer Steven Sentman attend a soccer camp media day at Chapman University.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I think GRIP is a very important initiative,” Struppa said. “We care a lot about these kids. Many of them struggle with family situations and we like to be able to lend a hand. We like to work with the police department because they are doing a terrific job. They are really members of the community.”

Victoria Rojas, a sixth grader at Walter Elementary School in Anaheim, may have said it best: “It’s cool that there are lot of kids enjoying it and having fun and learning how to play soccer.”

Kids line up as soccer player Kramer Runager of the Santa Ana Winds signs autographs for kids attending the soccer camp media day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Kids gather for instructions at soccer camp.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange PD Officer Augie Rocha (SWAT/Honor Guard) shares a moment with 11-year-old Elyse Morales during soccer camp.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Investigator Tom Finley of the O.C. District Attorney’s Office, left; O.C. Assistant District Attorney Tracy Miller; Michelle Van Der Linden, spokesperson for the O.C. District Attorney’s Office; Orange Police Chief Thomas Kisela; Chapman University President Daniele Struppa; O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas; and O.C. Chief Probation Officer Steven Sentman attend soccer camp media day at Chapman University.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Kids learn soccer skills during a camp with Orange PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, left, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Tracy Miller and Chapman University President Daniele Struppa at the soccer camp media day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC