Former homeless Sacramento woman found soccer, hopes others will too

Published: Tuesday, May. 17, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 19, 2012 - 8:37 pm

Lisa Wrightsman used soccer to turn her life around. Now she's using it to help others do the same.

Wrightsman, a standout at Sacramento State and in a semipro league, later fell to drugs, alcohol, homelessness and jail.

Last year, however, she entered a Volunteers of America recovery program and discovered VOA's street soccer program at Mather.

She wound up going to Washington, D.C., to play with the Mohawks, VOA's men's team.

She was named most valuable player at a national tournament and sent to Brazil to represent the United States.

When she got back, she was a changed woman, she said.

A newfound confidence earned her full-time work at TechSkills, where she'd been interning.

Watching the women she saw play in Brazil had been an eye-opener for her.

"They were not serious players," she said, referring to their soccer background, not their motivation.

She saw street soccer as something more than athletics. It is a movement about helping people get off the street.

She returned with an idea:

"We can totally make a women's team if this is what it's about," she said.

For the first time, Sacramento will send a women's Mohawks homeless soccer team to the national tournament this summer.

"Lisa was all ready to coach it," said Chris Mann, the men's coach and VOA case manager. "She understood it was much bigger than her."

Women who knew her in VOA's recovery program were also impressed by her change.

"I saw she changed. I wanted what worked for her to work for me," said Christina Sanchez, 31, who is now part of the team. "I had never played sports in my life."

The group is sponsoring a play day this Saturday when members of the public – for a $10 donation – can play all day at the Mohawks practice facility at Mather and learn about the homeless soccer movement.

"It's just taken off," Mann said of the women's team.

The added team has benefited both women and men in VOA's recovery programs, he said.

For one thing, women are finding new bonds with their children, some of whom had been taken by Child Protective Services.

"Their relationships are stronger because of soccer," Mann said.

Sanchez's four children sometimes play with the adults, she said.

The women playing have become less competitive and more trusting of each other, Wrightsman added.

The same is true of men, who are also adopting more family skills as they interact around soccer with the female players' children, Mann said.

"Now we're just like a big family," Sanchez said.

Soccer motivated one mother to go job hunting because she knew that character was a factor in selection for the national team, which will go to the Homeless World Cup in Paris this year.

Wrightsman has established ties with the Sacramento State women's soccer program, which will run a clinic at Mather. Wrightsman, the school's second leading career scorer, was a senior there in 2002.

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Read more articles by Carlos Alcalá

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