Benefield: Healdsburg's Eric Guzman Leyva brought his love of soccer to entire community
Eric Guzman Leyva was already impressive.
I watched Leyva and the Healdsburg High Greyhounds boys soccer team play Rancho Cotate back in January. It was the game that was very nearly not played after fans had been banned from the stands for unruly behavior during the prior game.
Tensions were high. But the night offered little drama, just good soccer. Leyva, a senior playing in his final home game, stood out on the field. He’s a ?dynamic striker who was clearly the heart of his team. And he stood out to me in our interview after the game, providing thoughtful and measured responses to a situation that had threatened to ruin senior night.
In a word, I was impressed.
And then I read Peter Mork’s letter.
Mork, a financial advisor and the treasurer/registrar of the Healdsburg Youth Soccer Association, wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Leyva, who was a contender for a Community Youth Service Award scholarship that would be given to 10 seniors in the Redwood Empire on April 10.
“In my role as treasurer and registrar of the newly formed (Healdsburg Youth Soccer Association), I can unequivocally state that the program would not have been the success it was without Eric,” he wrote.
“Eric volunteered countless hours doing outreach for the program, attending school and community events to promote the new organization, single-handedly recruited the referees that were needed, and helped coach both boys and girls teams over the season. All this while attending school and participating on a competitive soccer team based in Santa Rosa. It was truly impressive.”
Readers may recall that Healdsburg has had a bad run with community soccer. Not one but two officials, in separate cases and two years apart, were found guilty of stealing from Healdsburg’s youth soccer league back in 2011 and 2013.
Confidence was shot. Kids - hundreds of them - either mostly played elsewhere or didn’t play at all. That included Eric Leyva.
The city of Healdsburg had stepped into the breach and created an in-house league for boys and girls wanting to play recreational soccer. It helped. But interest and registration seemed to lag, especially for girls as they got older.
Before the 2017 fall season, it had been almost 10 years since Healdsburg had been able to field an under-12 girls soccer team. If kids were 10 or 11 years old, they had to drive to Windsor or Cloverdale or Santa Rosa to play.
Tom McGinty, a recent transplant to town, couldn’t understand it.
“There were three girls teams for U-10 and each team had like seven players,” he said. “It was a beautiful city, with amazing parents, but the sports were kind of a little lackluster.”
There were patchwork fixes here and there and the city responded admirably to fill the void, but until Mork and McGinty and others launched the Healdsburg Youth Soccer Association after the 2017 season, there wasn’t a focused push for a stand-alone soccer program.
Mork, a lifelong Healdsburg guy with two daughters, was a wrestler in high school, but soccer wasn’t his thing. He needed to tap the right people to make this thing work. He turned to Leyva’s older brother, Rene Guzman, a Healdsburg parks and recreation staffer whom he’d met a Corazon Healdsburg event. Guzman was regularly officiating games hosted by the parks and recreation department, ?so Mork, who had been coaching his daughter’s team, asked Guzman if he’d lend a hand with that first U-12 squad.
“What they learned from him in one practice was more than from me in a year and a half. Then he started having Eric come down,” Mork said.
So the brothers coached 9-, 10- and 11-year-old girls. When the season ended and the girls wanted to play indoor, they coached that, too. They couldn’t help it.
“So indoor rolls around and they are down there,” Mork said, laughing. “I feel bad. I was like, ‘You guys, you don’t need to do this.’ They are just showing up, helping out.”
But it was more than coaching. When Mork needed on-the-ground know-how to launch the soccer association, the brothers proved crucial.
“I’m the registrar for the league, doing forms and birth certificates,” Mork said. “But Rene and Eric were just plugged in.”
“Getting refs? It was like, ‘Guys, where do we go?’” Mork said. “They drove it.”
But the league still needed numbers. Everybody involved knew the kids were out there around town; they just needed to get the word out that Healdsburg soccer was making a comeback.
Leyva went to schools, to community centers and to the Boys and Girls Club. He wasn’t old enough to be too far removed from hanging out at these places, so he knew most of the people and staffers there.