Pleasanton: Spreading the joy of soccer to girls abroad

RAGE players, coach travel to South America to share love of the game

Not every girl has the means or the access to enjoy the sport of soccer.

With that knowledge spurring them on, a group of 14 Bay Area soccer lovers -- mainly with ties to the Pleasanton RAGE girls soccer organization -- traveled to South America last month aiming to encourage equality in soccer, according to RAGE coach Walter Pratte, who led the trip.

"Unfortunately, many areas in the world do not offer the same opportunities for girls as we do here in the U.S.," said Pratte, a native of Argentina. "Being such a male driven sport elsewhere, girls who have the passion and drive to play are not encouraged, or worse not even allowed, in many cities."

The local group -- a combination of parents and teen soccer players from the Bay Area, primarily Pleasanton RAGE girls 15 to 17 years old -- hoped to help change that.

They visited South America from Nov. 18-28, with the focus of their trip being a four-day experience in Paraguay where the Pleasanton teens and other participants helped girls in the town of Coronel Bogado hone their soccer skills, donated soccer equipment and tried to educate the local community about the importance of including girls in soccer, according to Pratte.

"We created opportunities ... by having open conversations with those who have an impact in the community, visiting and interacting at local schools, talking directly with girls who love the sport, and the boys who need to understand the girls deserve the same right to play," he said.

The Bay Area group held daily open training sessions in the town, sending the message that everyone was welcome and seeing the number of girls participating and observing grow each day, according to Pratte.

They also distributed soccer jerseys, shorts, socks and cleats that they collected before their trip, knowing that many families in the poor town don't have the resources to buy soccer attire, Pratte said.

"The trip was very successful," he added. "We left a community empowered to make changes for girls who want to play soccer and built relationships that will allow us to continue to travel back to this region making an even stronger impact."

The experience left an equally important impact on the Pleasanton participants, according to Pratte. "The impact on those who traveled was irreplaceable. They represented themselves, their families and our country very well, as stated by many people they met."

Pratte said he is also working to create a new nonprofit, Girls Soccer World Wide, to support and expand efforts to grow the game among girls in Coronel Bogado and other places around the world.

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