Trojan Youth Soccer League aims to unify community

After USC grappled with a campus shooting in October 2012, Hadley Greswold, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, began ruminating on ways to unite the broader community. After months of work, she founded the Trojan Youth Soccer League, a nonprofit sports league affiliated with USC that serves South Central youths.

Kickin’ it · The Trojan Youth Soccer League caters to the families of South Central and has partnered with the City of Los Angeles.  - Photo courtesy of Trojan Youth Soccer League

Kickin’ it · The Trojan Youth Soccer League caters to the families of South Central and has partnered with the City of Los Angeles. – Photo courtesy of Trojan Youth Soccer League

“The motivation came out of a desire to make the area around USC safe for everyone in the community. I felt that the most effective approach to making the area safe was this positive activity that could bring members of the community together,” Greswold said.

Though Greswold has since stepped down from her role as president, she continues to be involved in the organization.

She reflected fondly on its nascent stages and the organization’s first practice — it was her project coming into fruition.

“It had been a dream in my head,” Greswold said. “There were always doubts and challenges in the beginning. To see it in reality is the coolest feeling.”

Trojan Youth Soccer League has come a long way, however, since then. What began as eight teams of 7- to 9-year-olds has now expanded to 13 teams of 5- to 12-year-olds. With 30 staff members and over 65 students who have volunteered with the organization, TYSL is growing quickly. Though just a few seasons into the program, it has managed to garner national attention for its innovative model. Greswold and one other staff member were flown to Washington, D.C. to present their concept at the 2014 Urban Soccer Symposium. University students running a soccer league is a one-of-a-kind framework. Greswold feels it has potential to be a blueprint for other colleges and universities.

“Our dream is for other universities to pick up this model and create a soccer for social change across the nation because it’s already been so beneficial for our community at USC,” Greswold said.

What makes the league unique is that TYSL caters to the families of South Central. It has partnered with the City of Los Angeles, which has provided support by enabling the league to keep the cost of membership low. The city donates insurance coverage for all the players, which drives cost down to just $30 per player each season. For many in the community, the opportunity to join a soccer league is particularly exciting, as it would not otherwise have been financially feasible. Though the financial accessibility remains the cornerstone of the program, it’s the energy and commitment of the volunteers that makes TYSL so special, according to Greswold.

“I have been blown away by the volunteer culture in the USC student body,” Greswold said. “They have demonstrated this incredible drive to contribute to the community. Without that passion, without that volunteerism, it wouldn’t be what it is today.”

Hannah Vega, director of marketing for the league, joined in the spring semester, and began coaching a group of 12 kids. Having played soccer her entire life, Vega said she saw TYSL as an opportunity to become involved in a smaller community within the broader network of USC. She credited the outside community for the League’s success.

“It’s been so successful because all the families are all really passionate about their kids learning soccer,” Vega said. “There was a family with an older son and two younger siblings. The little kids would be on the sidelines with the parents. They would always come up to us and ask what they can do to help. They were just really involved. They came for all the games and all the practices. Now that we have expanded the program, their whole family is really heavily involved.”

According to Vega, it’s this exact closeness among the parents, coaches and players that will help the program evolve far into the future. One of the most exciting parts for TYSL’s founder is the knowledge that it will inevitably grow with talent that’s now leading it. Jocelyn Eng, president of TYSL since Greswold stepped down, shares the same ambitions for the future. She hopes to expand the program with every coming season.

“I see Trojan Soccer League becoming a really impactful soccer league in South Central,” Eng said. “We have such a great age range. We get such a variety of students. I think just cultivating the TYSL culture, which has already been established really well. We have such positive energy between the coaches, family and kids. I want to see that grow.”

A positive environment has become a hallmark of the league in bringing together students, USC community members, coaches, athletes and families.

“USC students love the opportunity to break down [the divide] between the school and community,” Eng said.

As they grow, TYSL is also looking for new volunteers to continue nurturing the program.

“The main characteristic that we look for is energy,” Greswold said. “It’s a pillar of our program: a positive attitude and energy. That’s what makes a good coach, and energy is contagious. When they bring that to the team, it makes for an incredible season.”