Community Service Highlights Soccer Team's Costa Rica Trip

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For the Dominican University of California men’s soccer team, a goodwill immersion trip to Costa Rica that was eight years in the making became a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience this summer.

“From top to bottom whether we were playing soccer or not it was amazing,” says forward Elias Muro ’23 from Stockton who is enrolled this fall in Dominican’s MBA program. “Soccer is what brought us together, but there’s so much more to life than soccer and it’s about understanding each other as players and as people. The biggest thing was the community service because we were giving back to kids who were just happy to have a soccer ball.”

With the support of Dominican’s Advancement Office and the help of generous donations from alumni and faculty the past eight years, the Dominican men’s soccer team was able to fully fund the trip to Costa Rica by raising money through its annual crowdfunding campaigns. The trip was the brainchild of former Dominican soccer coach and associate athletics director Phil Billeci-Gard who passed on his Costa Rica contacts to David Frank, who has been the Penguins men’s soccer coach since 2018. Frank had taken the same trip when he was a freshman soccer player at UC Santa Cruz before leading the Penguins’ entourage.

“Our main purpose of the trip was to bring our team closer together to experience a different culture, learn more about ourselves and each other, and find more gratitude in what we may be overlooking in our everyday lives. It’s been a humbling, fun, and totally amazing journey,” says Frank, the Pacific West Conference Coach of the Year in men’s soccer last year. “Hopefully we can start a tradition for future Dominican teams to have similar experiences to ours on some international trips of their own.”

The Penguins, who last year became the first Dominican team in its NCAA Division II era to win a Pacific West Conference championship, spent nine days in Costa Rica. They worked out as a team at Alajuelense, one of the top professional club training facilities in Costa Rica, and competed in three friendly matches against pro clubs’ under-21 squads; two first division clubs (Herediano and San Carlos) and one second division club (Carmelita).

Yet, said Frank says, “The biggest highlight of the trip was hands down visiting a school in an underprivileged part of the city of San Jose. The kids put on a special performance for us, and we organized a soccer clinic run by our student-athletes where the kids were able to play and interact with our student-athletes, too. It was beautiful to see how excited, happy, and joyful the kids were to meet and interact with our SAs.”

Students in the elementary school staged a talent contest for the Penguins. The third, fourth and fifth graders showed off their singing and dancing skills for the visitors and Dominican players showed off their soccer skills in a series of drills. When the bell rang and the students returned to their classroom, the Penguins followed them and presented the students with Dominican gear including bright orange summer soccer T-shirts.

“My highlight of the Costa Rica trip was working with the kids. It brought the team closer together in multiple ways,” says defender Ryan Garvey of Sacramento, who begins work in January in technology sales with Dell and is on schedule to complete his MSBA degree at Dominican next August.

Dominican’s trip also included three nights in the city of San Jose, two nights in the rainforest area near the Arenal volcano and La Fortuna, and three nights in the Tamarindo beach area.  The Penguins took a group sightseeing tours through historic San Jose and its national stadium, visited natural hot springs heated by the volcano, hiked to a beautiful waterfall in La Fortuna, and participated in a canopy zip line tour, as well.

“They proudly represented Dominican by participating in games with other universities, providing service at local schools and interacting with people throughout the country,” said Dominican Associate Athletic Director Spencer Shamo. “Our students were proud to wear our logo on their chest and show the world what the Dominican Experience represents.”

Most of the Penguins players on the trip are students in the Barowsky School of Business. They found the visit to Costa Rica inspiring from a business perspective.

“As far as my ability to apply my experience to my degree in business, there are a few things,” Ryan says. “I was able to see how a different country focuses on different things in terms of their businesses. Costa Rica is very different in the business world than the U.S. My prior studies in business allowed me to have a deeper understanding and perspective into how Costa Rica brings business to their citizens.”

Elias, who after this season will begin work in a technology sales position at a cyber security company (Verkada) in San Mateo, was so moved by the experience that he would someday like to create and manage a sports academy for underserved communities.

“A dream job is to give back to people who love a sport so much but don’t have the financial resources to do it,” he says.

The goal of Costa Rica trip for the Penguins was to bond as a team. The reality is the experience was less about soccer and more about life’s experiences.

 “I learned and gained a lot from the experience in Costa Rica,” Ryan says. “I learned about their culture as it was my first time out of the country and got to see what a beautiful place it is. I learned more about my teammates and coaches which brought us all closer together. Lastly, I learned what extensive quality time can do for a team’s chemistry going into a season.”

To a man, however, the Costa Rica trip was something that the Penguins will never forget or duplicate.

“I don’t know if anyone will go on a trip to a foreign country with 34 soccer players ever again,” Elias says. “We have a bunch of guys on this team with different cultural backgrounds and it was cool to see us integrate Costa Rica’s culture into our lives for 9 days. To see these kids and think they could be just like us someday. They just need support and opportunity.”

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