Special needs sports program struggling after San Francisco school district imposes new fees


A small sports program for special needs students is struggling to raise enough donations to cover its costs, thanks to a change in how the San Francisco school district charges for fields.

For the last five years, E-Soccer has been able to use the fields at George Washington High School for free, including the restrooms and parking lots.

But beginning in January 2018, the San Francisco Unified School District is charging the small non-profit $3,000, excluding fees for the right to use parking lots and restrooms.

This change comes after a reading of the policy, which states that any organization with participants from outside the school district are considered community groups, therefore required to rent the facilities, according to the SFUSD Using and Renting Facilities website.

After receiving the district bill, directors of E-Soccer found that the access to the school’s restrooms and parking would cost an additional roughly $2,500.

The school district did not respond to requests for comment about the new fees. The district does post its permit schedule here, which outlines the parking costs.

The additional expense of restroom and parking was something Ed Marquez, San Francisco chapter director, said the organization just “couldn’t afford” and would have to do without.

While $3,000 may seem like a small amount, just that fee for the fields nearly doubles the volunteer group’s cost per year.  

E-Soccer is an inclusive sports program that specializes in empowering typical and special needs children aged 5 and up. Roughly 50 participants attend the San Francisco chapter each season.

Since it was founded in April of 2000, the program has operated solely from private donations, allowing families to participate free of charge.

“Being charged by the school district, it’s now a little bit in jeopardy,” Marquez said.

Marquez has been a long-time volunteer, coach, and director of E-Soccer. He became involved when his daughter, Lauren Marquez began participating at just four years old.  

“It taught me at a young age how to meet and be friends with people of all abilities,” said Lauren Marquez, now coach for E-Soccer and a sophomore at Stanford.

She emphasized the program’s focus on inclusion, where the main goal is to develop each individual child’s leadership, social, character, and athletic skills.

Martin Oji has been an E-Soccer coach for more than 16 years and has seen the benefits of the program firsthand.

“It’s very fulfilling when you see kids go through the transformation and make progress week after week,” Oji said. “You see kids build relationships with others who are different from them, we look forward to that each season.”

But parents are concerned with how the new field expense might change their child’s ability to play for free.

“There are a lot of young families who participate,” said Dwight Daguman, a parent and volunteer of E-Soccer. “To ask them to make an upfront donation or require some initiation fee would be detrimental to a lot of folks.”

Daguman and his son Joshua have been involved in every season of E-Soccer for the past eight years. Joshua, who is now 16, is on the autism-spectrum. E-Soccer has been a constant throughout his life, providing him with a sense of independence, accomplishment, and purpose.

Organizers are hopeful that through increased donations E-Soccer will remain free for all participants for the upcoming season in February.

To learn more, become involved, or make a donation to E-Sports or E-Soccer, visit http://soccer.e-sports.org/ or http://e-sports.org/.