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Community Spotlight: Beyond Soccer with Sheriffs FC

Debut of NorCal’s Community Spotlight Series, featuring member club Sheriffs FC and their impact on and off the field

ALAMEDA COUNTY, CA, March 8, 2024—Walk the sidelines at any NorCal Premier Soccer competition and you’re likely to come across the familiar black and gold crest of Sheriffs FC, lately one of the region’s more successful organizations in terms of on field results.

In the seven years since its entry into NorCal, the East Bay club that serves several unincorporated communities in Alameda County has made waves in the local, state, and national communities, even earning spotlights in Soccer America and

Sheriffs FC might now be known for its 20 competitive squads that participate in NorCal and MLSNext, but the club initially came into the fold as part of a program funded by the Deputy Sheriff’s Activities League (DSAL), an outreach initiative designed to lower crime rates by building community through sports and other after school programming.

The founding focus of Sheriffs FC was in the holistic aspect of the game, and it prided itself on the work it accomplished in an underserved community where it provided opportunities in funding and education that directly impacted the lives of the local youth.

In fact, according to the club’s founders, these aspects were the driving force behind creating Sheriffs FC, while fielding competitive soccer teams wasn’t yet on their radar.

When founders Omar Cervantes and Nick Lusson joined from other clubs in NorCal, they were tasked with helping oversee DSAL’s soccer program, but also the boxing gym, the drum line, martial arts, facility development, and more.

They set out to build the soccer programming by helping improve facilities, organizing after school events, and improving the level of coaching the kids received, all of which would come free of charge for the participants thanks to DSAL funding, crime prevention and community grants, and funding from the Alameda County Sheriffs’ Office.

“After some time working with the community and the players, we started to see that there was an amazing talent pool, there was a hunger for something more, and there was a disconnect from the community we were working with to the established system of soccer clubs,” Lusson said. “We listened to the community and started with a small group of local players who were playing a lot of pickup games and futsal–we always had a field space issue there, so a lot of the kids had never played full-sized soccer.”

Sheriffs FC was born with three teams completely new to this aspect of the game–none of the players who made up those original squads had ever been registered to another competitive club before.

From these humble beginnings, the results quickly improved and Sheriffs FC became one of the top talent producers in its area after a few seasons.

While the club has since won many accolades, including the 2021-22 U11 NorCal State Cup, the impact it has had off of the field in Alameda vastly outweighs any trophies it has, or will, lift.

“Ultimately what Sheriffs FC is about is objectives that are non-traditional objectives for a soccer club, soccer is very much a means to an end with Sheriffs FC,” Lusson said. “The intent for this was part of a crime prevention and a community development program. It was taking a sport that a large part of the demographic of the community that was there and very passionate about, to use that as a catalyst to bring people together and affect positive change to make it a safer community.”

By preaching a community policing model that focused on tackling the root causes of crime–think proactive instead of reactive–DSAL and Sheriffs FC produced objective results that proved the effectiveness of this philosophy.

The youth involved in the program flocked to the club’s redeveloped facility for events like Friday night five-a-side tournaments featuring teenage DJs and plenty of pizza to go around.

“Crime rates improved in the area,” Lusson said. “Crime reporting went up, which I thought was a bad thing at first, until I realized that the relationships that were built between the deputies and our community through things like the soccer and boxing programs, were taking a disenfranchised community and giving them a voice and an opportunity to connect and know that there are resources available for them.”

“The other really fascinating thing that happened over the years was that Sheriffs became a model of community pride and empowerment,” Lusson added. “In part, not wholly because of, but in part because of the Sheriffs FC work and the DSAL Boxing Gym, which was part of the same umbrella, really built up these community groups that found a really strong voice in going to other institutions because it’s an unincorporated area that gets left behind and forgotten about.”

As Sheriffs enters its next chapter, though, a new challenge awaits: the funding that helped the club throughout its inception has recently been pulled, forcing the competitive soccer program to decouple from its parent organization and charge fees for the first time.

It’s a challenge that current leadership, including Executive Director Glenn van Straatum and Director of Coaching Oscar Escobar, is prepared to undertake to ensure the long-term success of the program.

“It’s a challenge but it’s also a big opportunity to show how a club that’s basically starting from scratch can actually become a free-to-play program again,” said van Straatum, a longtime NorCal member. “The joy that (our players) have of playing the game, you can just see it and you can just feel it. That’s the uniqueness of this club. Kids come here, not because their parents send them, they come here because they love to play the game.”

Despite the setbacks, those kids still show up and the families remain involved in the unique community they all helped create–those key aspects aren’t changing anytime soon.

Instead, more and more alums are giving back to bolster the amount of support Sheriffs FC receives while the leadership staff remains steadfast in its mission to continue providing the same quality of soccer programming and community building.

“What (the current leadership is) doing is so much more important than anything they’re going to teach the kids on the soccer field,” Lusson said. “It’s their mentality and their attitude, to not just throw their hands up in the air and say they’re a victim, but to fight to save the program, transform it, evolve, and continue.”

“I believe that’s going to inspire that next generation of kids,” Lusson added. “A soccer club really becomes a true club when it’s around long enough to see a generational cycle come through. I think that’s where the magic in our sport really starts to happen, when people who came up there as players return as coaches to just give back.”

Follow Sheriffs FC on Instagram @sheriffsfutbolclub