Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Meet your Neighbors: Coach Popsie of DC SCORES

We're starting a new series on the the blog today, called Meet your Neighbors, in which writer Alex Rego talks to interesting residents.

In the first installment, she spoke with Mark "Popsie" Lewis, who coaches with DC SCORES, the great local nonprofit that offers soccer and poetry programs for almost 2,000 kids in DC. (I wrote more about them yesterday!)

Coach Popsie's team from Lincoln Middle School at 16th and Irving was on the verge of winning the DC SCORES soccer title and are also preparing for the organization's annual Poetry Slam, which is this Wednesday, December 2 from 5-8 at Lincoln. It's free and open to the public, RSVP here!

Interview and photos by Alex Rego

Meet Popsie.

Soccer coach by day.

Bouncer by night.

I was introduced to him as an “institution” within DC SCORES. Which made me wonder, how exactly does one go from mere man to institution?

Popsie has been coaching for DC SCORES since 2009; he started with the students at downtown's Thomson Elementary, or as he lovingly calls them his “babies,” and has since branched out, coaching at Lincoln Middle School at 16th and Irving as well.

“I had done the DC SCORES summer camp that summer, and met a group of young men that were at Lincoln at the time. They took a liking to me and my coaching methods and so when they lost their coach in the spring season they actually showed up at my house! I wasn’t home, but at the time my best friend was the director of DC SCORES, so they asked him if I could come be their new coach. And the rest is history! I’ve been at Lincoln for five years and Thomson for six.”

The longevity of Popsie’s career with DC SCORES is only one part of his fame -- it’s Lincoln’s record that sets him apart.

“Within the five years I’ve been with Lincoln this is my fourth championship game -- we have won three of those games and if we win today it will be a three-peat for the last three years.”

Popsie doesn’t like to take the credit for the team's success. He attributes a lot of it to the passion and the prevalence of players from our neighborhood.

“So the good thing about Lincoln, and the Columbia Heights area in general, is it’s a soccer neighborhood, a soccer environment. I always tell people, you know, I only do so much. I have a good turnout of kids every year -- whereas most schools struggle to find players, I have 30-40 kids each year that want to be on the team.”

He spoke of Lincoln’s growing rivalry with the nearby Raymond Education Campus at 10th and Spring and Chavez Prep at Sherman and Kenyon.

“Obviously, everybody wants to win, but even moreso when you get to Chavez Prep or Raymond, our neighboring schools who we tend to consider our rivals, the competition gets fierce.”

And the competition doesn’t stop on the field: it carries over to the DC SCORES end of the season Poetry Slam. Popsie sees the impact of the poetry classes and competitions on his players.

“We get kids that are fairly shy coming in, and the poetry side is where we allow kids to express themselves and be who they are. A lot of times, kids, because of peer pressure or bullying, are not really open to share their thoughts. And the poetry class really helps that. I see the development of certain kids... Taking part in the poetry, finding that voice to express themselves without someone trying to put them down. So I think the poetry side is much bigger than the actual soccer in DC SCORES.”

Popsie has also implemented his own standards for academic excellence. He believes academics are key to not only being what he called “responsible young men” but also for continuing athletics in high school, and later on in life. Each week, every player must get approval from all of their teachers to play and to practice.

“So I really try to stress that aspect of it. And just being responsible young men, owning up to mistakes when you make them, and being good human beings.”

When I had the opportunity to speak with two of his sixth grade team members, Mamadou and William, I could already see his influence. They were jumping over each other to talk and share stories, like typical teenage boys. But what struck me was that they were not bragging about themselves, they were praising each other.

“...This one time, I gave him an assist, it was up in the air, and he kicked it. It was an astonishing half shot, it hit the goal post and went in! Thats one of the best things I saw him do,” said Mamadou of William.

William then chimed in: “For tonight, if we lose, I don’t really care. I just like to play for fun. And I like to play with my friends, like Mamadou, because we always try hard, and we always have fun.”

And what does Popsie learn from the boys?

“Oh man, a little bit of everything. Patience, definitely... And they allow me to let my guard down a little bit and just have fun sometimes. At the end of the day, just like I’m trying to make them better people, they have made me ten times better a person than I was when I first started coaching with DC SCORES.”

As for the title game, a rematch of last year, Lincoln and Raymond tied 1-1 in regulation, with Raymond taking the title in a shoot-out.

To see more fierce competition join DC SCORES at its 18th Annual Poetry Slam! on Wednesday, December 2, 5-8 PM at Columbia Heights Education Campus (16th and Irving) and Thursday, December 3, 5-8 PM  and H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast. The events are free and open to the public, and a lot of fun.

To RSVP and for more details please visit the DC SCORES site.

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