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Separated from football during the pandemic, the Bay Area teenager now pays tribute to the next generation of players | Our America: Fifty50

SAN FRANCISCO. When 15-year-old San Francisco native Mirian Rodriguez was asked about her favorite football memory, she was quick to respond.

“It was a penalty and in the last minutes of the game we drew. I was the goalkeeper and stopped the ball,” said Rodriguez. “Everyone has gone crazy. I felt strong because I was on the field doing things that I didn’t think I could do.”

It was the Rodriguez family who first brought her to the football field shortly after she learned to walk, allowing her to kick the ball along with her older brother.

Her mom knew she needed to take her daughter to the soccer field to play with an organized team.

Rodriguez said she had a hard time finding the right women’s soccer team before she found out about the Jamestown Community Center.

The Jamestown Community Center is an organization in San Francisco Missionary District that offers programs for youth and families ranging from recreation and organized sports teams to family support.

“Mirian just intervened right away. She was very loud and outgoing. It reflected many of the things I would do, like trying to pump up girls or any game strategy,” said Ariel Esqueda, Jamestown Sports Center. director.

According to Rodriguez, over the years, Esqueda has become her second mother – a role model and inspiration as she studied and grew up both on and off the field.

“I love how football makes me feel because there are a lot of problems at school,” Rodriguez said. “Mentally I’m not in good shape when I’m at school just because of all the kids around me.”

Rodriguez lives in anxiety, and the football field is one of the few places where she feels the most.

“I used to come to the football field. It just drove me out of my head and I could just focus on winning,” she said.

But when her bedroom became a classroom in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and sports were suspended, Rodriguez lost her refuge on the soccer field.

As health officials lifted COVID restrictions, her team struggled to come together.

“I wanted to return, but there were not so many girls who wanted to return. Nothing happened,” she said.

Esqueda acknowledged Rodriguez’s desire to return to the field, so he offered the teenager to work with younger players during summer practice.

“She is very responsible. I saw it and wanted to make sure I let her keep doing it. Seeing how she can coach and lead is pretty cool. That’s why I’m here,” Eskeda said.

Following her success during the summer football clinic, Esqueda welcomed Rodriguez again to continue working with younger girls during the season as an assistant coach.

“My favorite thing about working with younger girls was just having fun. We all learn from each other and I learn from them too,” Rodriguez said. “I am learning patience. What I teach them will help them when they get older.”

Esqueda said she is grateful to Rodriguez for being a role model for young players, opening up a field of opportunity for them to dream and achieve.

“To see a young girl, a person of color, who is able to make these connections and take a leadership role so that these girls can see that they, too, have the potential to become a referee or coach, is a big deal,” Esqueda said.

“These kids will one day be in my shoes,” Rodriguez said. “One day they will teach other kids and I feel like it’s cool because I want it to continue. I don’t want it to stop.”

Girls and women have come a long way to gain equal access to sport and there is still so much work to be done.

SEE ALSO: What is Section IX?

Just 50 years ago, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a landmark civil rights law widely recognized for its achievements in gender equality for women and girls in sports.

“It’s crazy that we’ve been in this for 50 years,” Esqueda said. “I only hope this continues to open the eyes of others so that things continue to change in the right direction. There are a lot of girls who have that kind of potential and that kind of ability, and it’s just that someone gives them that chance.”

As for Rodriguez, she looks forward to the day when there will be more women’s sports on television and sports coverage of all genders equally in the media.

“My message would be simple: go ahead. I went for it and I feel like there are a lot of opportunities now,” she said. “I hope there will always be opportunities for young women to play football and just sports in general.”

Watch Sofia Carson host Our America: Fifty50, ABC’s Title IX 50th Anniversary Special, on your local ABC station (click here to check local listings) or wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku.

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