One City Schools founder and CEO Kaleem Caire noticed something at his kids’ soccer practice — one of the coaches of the Wisconsin Rush soccer team seemed to have complete control of the very young kids he was coaching.
“(Kaleem) was kind of like, ‘you’re good with kids, aren’t you?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, I love working with kids,’” says longtime Madison club soccer coach Henry Aiyenero. “He said, ‘I saw you during a training session. I saw how all the kids are laser focused on you….How would you like to come help out at One City School?’”
Aiyenero had already been working in academic support in the MIddleton-Cross Plains School District, and jumped at the chance to work with younger kids in a charter school – especially one that would encourage him to bring his lifelong soccer experience along.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Aiyenero grew up in Canada, where he played youth and high school soccer, rising as far as the Under-17 Canadian National Team. He played college soccer for Bethel College in Indiana, where he earned All American Honorable Mention in 1997. He went on to play professionally in Hong Kong and Brazil before beginning his coaching career in Iowa. He landed in Madison 16 years ago to coach with Middleton Yahara Soccer Club, which is now called Wisconsin Rush. He’s also coached with the Madison 56ers at both the youth and semi-pro level, and was an assistant coach at Edgewood College for six years. He went on to serve in club director roles in Colorado and Michigan before finally returning to Madison last year.
In addition to coaching, he still plays when he can, in leagues and tournaments around the Madison area and with a Chicago-based team of ex-pros called Jake’s Stars, which got second in the Over-40 division at amateur nationals last year.
It’s easy to translate all that soccer experience to the classroom, he says.
“For me, I’ve always thought about my years of soccer, in working with players, in order to change a player, you must first get to know the player,” he says. “I bring that into the classroom setting. I have to get to know the student first before I can change or help change the student. How are you? What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have any brothers and sisters? Where are you going this weekend? Just common communication, interaction. See what they know, how they can open up. Sometimes I have no clue what they’ve been through. Mom and dad may not be there. They may be living with grandma, or only one of the parents. I don’t know that if I don’t sit to talk to them and get to know them.”
Aiyenero fulfills a classroom support role for One City’s teachers, especially for students who might be having a hard time.
“I support in the classroom, the main teacher. If a kid is having some tough time, or is not paying attention to what’s going on in the classroom, instead of the teacher now spending time with that one student, they can still focus on everybody else,” he says. “I’ll go in and I’ll sit with that student. So instead of removing the student from the classroom, I will sit alongside, and I will try to engage and bring them back in. Some of my questions will be like, ‘Did you eat breakfast today?’ It could be, maybe they didn’t eat at home, or maybe they didn’t get enough to eat at home. ‘Why are you frustrated, how can I help you?’ I’m just trying to get them back involved in the classroom setting.”
He also gets a chance to get the ball out now and again, too.
“And then I bring soccer in, too, to get them engaged in teamwork, sharing the soccer ball — at that age, they don’t wanna share,” he says with a laugh.
“For me, coaching is learning twice,” Aiyenero says. “The more you coach, there’s still more to learn. I just want to reach out to as many kids as I can using the beautiful game of soccer.”
The school will take the soccer training to the next level with One City Soccer Saturdays, beginning at 8:30 am this Saturday, May 11 at Penn Park on Madison’s South Side. The first session is just 8:30-10 am on four Saturdays — May 11, May 25, June 1 and June 8. Another session this summer will go for six Saturdays.
The clinic is open to boys and girls age 4 to 7. Aiyenero stresses it won’t be hardcore soccer instruction, but just a chance to do some fun soccer-practice kinds of games and then just play soccer.
“It’s a chance to get out, run around, have some fun,” he says.
The program is free for anyone in the community. Every kid will get a uniform, courtesy of the Middleton law firm Casimir Jones, plus some coaching and encouragement, and a snack when it’s done.
Parents are required to stay, but won’t be expected to do too much running.
“We just want you to acknowledge, support, cheer for your son or daughter,” he says. “And it’s just an hour in the morning, so you can then go about your day.”
To register, parents are asked to call the One City Schools office at (608) 268-8004 or email Marilyn Ruffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.