Calipatria youth groups to reach cross-section of kids

August 06, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

CALIPATRIA — When Steve Valdez told Calipatria Police Chief Reggie Gomez, "It's time we got the Police Activities League off the ground," Gomez responded with, "Let's do it."

Steve Valdez runs the Boxing Against Drugs program in the city and works at the Fair Store, in the city, owned by his father.

The PAL here is in the initial steps of joining forces with the BAD program, the Calipatria Rebels Junior Wrestling Program and the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program's Steps of Success project in an effort to provide more activities for the city's youth.

Gomez said PAL was only offering arts and crafts and cooking classes when he was hired as police chief a year ago.


"But I leaned more toward an athletic league," he said.

Gomez said he talked to Valdez about combining the BAD program with PAL.

Valdez then told Gomez about the junior wrestling program coordinated by Ray Leon.

The three started searching for a place to house the programs, but they needed funding.

So Gomez introduced Leon and Valdez to Lea Anne O'Malley, SOS coordinator for Calipatria and Niland, because most PAL funding comes from SOS.

"This four-way partnership is going to unite different sectors of the youth here," said Gomez. "So hopefully we will be able to reach out to a broader cross-section of the youth."

O'Malley said, "I hope we get a stronger presence in our community and in youth programs.

"I have heard about the PAL program and always wanted to be a part of it, so when I came here I wanted to be a part of it," she added.

"When we got here we talked to the chief and he told us the PAL hadn't really gotten off the ground," said O'Malley.

She said of Gomez, "He put in a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of desire to get this going, so I think we're going to see a lot of good things coming."

The BAD program has been run by Valdez for about four years. He said he started the program shortly after he got out of college but stopped after about two months because he had problems with insurance, among other things.

He moved to Brawley and went on with his life. He later moved back to Calipatria and saw some of the kids who had been in his program had gotten involved with drugs.

"They would ask me when I would start the program again, so that's why I decided to do something," said Valdez.

"I have kids of my own and I don't want to see them in that situation," he added.

So Valdez went before the City Council and asked for instructions on restarting the program. The council told him to get petitions signed by residents who want such a program.

Valdez went door-to-door and got about 500 signatures. The program was started again and has established itself in the city.

Now it is time, he said, to join forces with the other youth programs in Calipatria.

"There's a lot of possibility here as long as we take care of it and work for it," said Valdez.

"Hopefully, this will put Calipatria on the map. It's amazing how many people don't know where Calipatria is," he added.

Leon's reason for starting the junior wrestling program was a little different.

After Leon started as assistant wrestling coach at Calipatria High, he noticed the wrestling level of Calipatria's youth was not where it needed to be to compete well against other schools.

"They all have experience because they all play in smaller wrestling clubs and we were just learning," said Leon.

Leon has been running his wrestling program for two years and looks forward to the combined efforts in Calipatria.

"I think it's excellent if we can get it started," said Leon of the partnership between recreation groups.

"Hopefully we'll have something like a boys and girls club where youths can channel their energy to sports," added Leon.

Officials with the four programs are negotiating with the owner of a tire shop on the 300 block of East Main Street in hopes of renting or leasing a section of the building to house the PAL programs.

"It's great because we can put up a sign that will face Main Street. The facilities need a little bit of work but it has off-street parking, which is great," said Gomez.

"We're also hoping to establish a PAL office there as well," he added.

"First we have to learn to walk before we start running and after we learn to run we can fly," said Gomez of the partnership.

Gomez hopes the partnership will offer more sports such as soccer, softball, basketball, flag football and others to the city's youth.

"We do need support from the parents in the community and I am really looking forward to this," he said.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

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