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Andy Furillo: Soccer helped Kennedy High girl overcome learning disorder

Kennedy High's Jiovanna Mamola overcomes obstacles to gain soccer scholarship to UC Irvine

Kennedy High School girls soccer player Jiovanna Mamola talks about being able to overcome Attention Deficit Disorder and Auditory Processing Disorder in the classroom and on the pitch to gain an athletic scholarship to UC Irvine on Friday, Feb. 1
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Kennedy High School girls soccer player Jiovanna Mamola talks about being able to overcome Attention Deficit Disorder and Auditory Processing Disorder in the classroom and on the pitch to gain an athletic scholarship to UC Irvine on Friday, Feb. 1

The soccer part looks easy for Jiovanna Mamola. She controls the midfield, muscles through traffic, distributes the ball as she pleases, and if you give her space from as far as 35 yards, you better tell the keeper to prepare for a rocket.

Mamola’s talent on the pitch attracted the attention of college scouts, but it was the fight she showed in the classroom that earned a scholarship to play Division I soccer at UC Irvine.

As a kid, Mamola battled attention-deficit disorder. When it looked as if she got a handle on that, up popped another educational barrier. She couldn’t understand what her teachers were saying, due to a disconnection between her ears and her brain. School psychologists diagnosed her with auditory processing disorder. A family discussion ensued about placing her into an alternative educational curriculum.

“Jio,” as she is called, vetoed the idea. She wanted to mainstream it, to take the challenge more on her own. She paid the price, struggling through math and science and taking a couple extra years to work her way through algebra. But work through it she did. She moved on, and up, and now she’s a senior at Kennedy High School with A’s and B’s.

All the while, she has had soccer, and Mamola believes the beautiful game played a major role in inspiring her toward her college scholarship, in transforming a learning disability into motivation.

“I felt like I had a bigger struggle, and a lot of girls who are out there didn’t have the same thing I was going through, and I felt like it made me want to fight it more, and you know, just overcome it,” Mamola said. “And it really helped me because I was pushing more, and it felt like I was pushing more than most girls were.

“It’s almost like I was singled out, I was different, and it made me fight more, and I think it made me think harder and process it more.”

Everybody knows it takes a village to raise a scholarship soccer player. Mamola’s community began with her parents, a couple of sports nuts. Her dad, Joel, rowed crew for Saint Mary’s before running the Two Guys from Italy restaurant with considerable success for 20 years before retiring and closing it a few years ago. Her mother, Jade, played tennis at Cosumnes River College and soccer at Heidelberg University in Germany before attending Sacramento State and Loyola New Orleans for her degrees. She’s now a teacher at Cristo Rey High School. They have three other siblings heavily into sports.

Beyond family, Jio got big assists from teachers and staff at Leonardo Da Vinci School and at Kennedy.

In her elementary years, she was what a sensitive observer would call “spirited;” she described her early self as “very chaotic.” She had some obvious problems with her attention span. During middle school, it was suggested she be tested for auditory processing disorder.

Once it was discovered, teachers, administrators and psychologists found solutions through accommodations. They printed teachers’ notes ahead of time so she could follow along better in class and not worry so much about listening and understanding at the same time, and they gave her more time to take tests.

“It was just getting people together to see how she could succeed,” her mother said. “Growing up with all that support, she followed her goals. It might take her longer and she might have had to go through different routes, but she kept plugging away.”

But she knew there was only one person responsible for her success in learning.

“My mom can only do so much,” she said. “My teachers can only do so much. So, it’s me. It needs to start with me. I’ve learned that in the last year. I had to start doing stuff. I’m growing up. I’m going off to college next year. I’m going to have to do all these things by myself.”

On the field, Mamola has become one of the best girls soccer players in the region. She starred for FC Elk Grove last year, scoring 12 goals, before switching this season to the Placer United Club in the NorCal National Premier Leagues.

She had a blast as a freshman for Kennedy, scoring 19 goals. Though she scored fewer goals the past two years after moving from center forward to midfield, it helped her team keep winning. She kicks off her senior season Feb. 26 against Center.

“Every single coach wants her,” said Marcia Silva, her coach last year with FC Elk Grove. “She is always doing extra work. Her commitment is to the team no matter what. She is the first one to help her teammates. She is a really talented player who never gives up.”

Silva said Mamola can expect more attention from talent scouts when she plays Division I college soccer. A national age-group team could be next.

“She could go far,” Silva said.

Looking at Jio Mamola, it’s easy to see that she already has.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo