Name: Omari McCleary

Where are you from? From Bed Stuy, Brooklyn NY and Mariner’s Harbor Staten Island

Where do you teach? I am the program director of Good Shepherd Service’s Compass program located at PS 297, in Brooklyn. We are open for after-school, holidays and summer camp. 

How long have you been teaching? I was an elementary classroom teacher for 4 years before switching to out-of school education for 3.5 years. 

What are some of the challenges youth faced in your community? Their time spent out of school isn’t being used to develop their identity and social/emotional competencies; increasing the likelihood that they’ll get involved in risky behaviors. There’s an opportunity gap and a lack of exposure to what the world has to offer. This includes access to fresh food and healthy lifestyles, innovative careers and education resources, creative and unique hobbies, cultural traditions and of course the beautiful game. 

Tell us about the New York City FC community soccer program at your School? I have been obsessed with the game and its transformative outcomes since 2009 (after seeing a documentary about the homeless world cup called “Kicking It”.) I wish I had found the game earlier in my childhood, when all the other popular sports didn’t appeal. As a classroom teacher, I played amateurishly with the kids at recess as an academic incentive. Once I became a program director, I wanted to start a physical activity that would promote healthy living, encourage co-ed competition, bring cultural exposure, and was relatively cheap to finance. Originally it was just myself and another staff member that improvised a kind of “futsal” class with small basketballs.  I’ve been a Manchester City fan and followed the MLS; so when NYCFC was announced, I was luckily chosen to take a trip to the Etihad. It was there the NYCFC community development objectives were revealed, and I knew I wanted my program to be involved. I truly believe that the five boroughs can develop some world class players similar to how our pick-up basketball has. 

What impact does soccer have on your class? A lot of our kids are learning something brand new together at the same time. It’s all foreign to them and so collectively they are experiencing the benefits of persistent practice and the satisfaction of improvement. Specifically our girls, are learning that they can be as “fast” and as “strong” as the boys. We have been using the concepts of “fair play” to encourage participants to take responsibilities for their mistakes and “finishing” to promote focus and patience when reaching their academic goals. The coaches are great at tying the game back to a healthy lifestyle. Additionally a lot of our families are depending on athletic scholarships for their students to attend college. In this neighborhood Football/Basketball programs are oversaturated and the percentage of a “full ride” or going professional are tenths of a percent; however soccer in the “states” and “inner city” is starting to take off. I hope to convince the next upcoming LeBron James to play Soccer and build the American game.

Do you have a nice anecdote on a one of the kids in the program? Our waiting list has grown once the kids in the school starting seeing NYCFC stickers on a lot of backpacks. We even developed a relationship with a neighboring middle school to use their field. It seems like everyone wants to join the Club. Even a neighborhood pigeon has been known to fly through to play!