Sopori Elementary School students lost their after school program this year, but an Amado resident with time on his hands wants the kids to know they have at least one alternative.
Donald Rodriguez created the Amado Sports Organization in August 2018 hoping to make sports more accessible to kids in the area. Over the past year, he's been building up three flag football teams and he hopes to add additional sports teams as the organization grows.
Right now, 20 boys and girls who range in age from 8 to 14 play on three separate teams in the Playmakers FFL – a flag football league with teams throughout Southern Arizona.
Rodriguez's efforts could gain more traction now that Sopori has lost its 21st Century grant.
In September 2014, Sahuarita High School and Sopori received a five-year $872,000 Arizona Department of Education grant. The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant provided funding for extended learning opportunities, tutoring and after-school programs. It ended in May.
Rodriguez is committed to giving kids in the Amado area a chance to play sports even when their parents can't afford to pay for registration fees or equipment.
Despite not having any of his own children in the organization, Rodriguez has already spent close to $2,000 paying for equipment and registration fees for the kids to play in Playmakers FFL.
“We were getting kids that were just coming in and walking on the field and just asked us what it was about and they were interested in it but as soon as I told them the league fee they walked away,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, 34, is currently unable to work. He said he has been having issues with his back since 2002 and suffers from spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. He said he now spends most of his time working to support the kids in ASO.
He is working to gain nonprofit status for the ASO and he writes letters, sends out fliers, and makes phone calls all in the hopes of drawing more players and financial support from businesses and residents.
“I promised them as a coach that I would try and get as much resources as possible to get them to continue to play without that insecurity of not having the proper equipment or not being able to know that they are going to play,” Rodriguez said.
An ASO car wash on Aug. 31 raised around $300 and businesses like Luna’s Auto Service and Towing, Iwanski Body Shop, and Big 5 Sporting Goods are also helping out, by providing donations of equipment and money, Rodriguez said.
Jesse Luna, of Luna's Auto Service and Towing, donated $100 to ASO in July. Luna said he liked what the organization was doing to help the kids in Amado.
Big 5 Sporting Goods provided ASO with $150 worth of mouthpieces for the players after Rodriguez walked into the store planning to buy equipment with $200 donated by Iwanski Body Shop.
Rodriguez hopes to raise $3,000 in the coming months to pay for helmets and bags. He said he has everything he needs to fund the younger kids playing on the 8u and 10u teams for their season starting on Oct. 19, but is still raising funds for his 13-14u kids, who start their season in January.
“We are $400 or $500 away from our goal of $3,000,” he said. “I’d like to be at $3,400 but hey, I can get by with all these kids at $3,000. I can stretch a buck pretty good.”
If he can reach $7,000, Rodriguez said the kids would be able to play flag football throughout the summer and into October 2020.
Rodriguez said he and head coach Robert Ortiz could have opted to start football teams in Amado, but purposely opted for flag football.
"I feel and Robert feels, that flag football is better than tackle," Rodriguez said. "We value the safety of our kids, we value the safety of their health and we want to motivate them to keep them in flag football."
Rodriguez expects his kids to give back to the community that has given to them.
Rodriguez plans for ASO kids to clean yards and trim hedges for those who might not be able to do it themselves.
Despite his back problems, Rodriguez strives to make sure his kids have a safe space to play. The kids train Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and everyday before practice, Rodriquez walks around Kay Stupy-Sopori Neighborhood Park, throwing out rocks and stomping on ant hills.
Most of ASO's games are played in Quail Creek, against other Playmakers FFL teams from Sahuarita and Tucson. Some of the ASO kids can't always get rides to games, so Rodriguez and Ortiz take it upon themselves to take the kids to where they need to go.
One of those kids is 11-year-old Jose Luis Valenzuela, who doesn’t think he’d have a football team to play on were it not for Rodriguez and head Ortiz.
“My dad and my stepmom are really busy sometimes and they don’t have the time to take me to practices and games,” Valenzuela said. “Since it’s right here I can walk here or ride my bike here.”
Some parents, like Scott DeCrapio whose son Anthony, 11, is involved in ASO, are grateful for the work Rodriguez and Ortiz are doing in the community.
“I think it’s a great organization, you get these kids in Amado off the streets, what they are doing out here is wonderful,” DeCrapio said. “It’s really appreciated with the hard work that they do. All these coaches they take their time out to come here and coach our kids and it’s wonderful.”