ESPN Film Chronicles Work of Santa Cruz Probation Officer

Posted December 3, 2012, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

San­ta Cruz Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia, pro­ba­tion offi­cer Gina Castaneda’s suc­cess in unit­ing rival gang mem­bers from South San­ta Cruz Coun­ty into a cham­pi­onship indoor-soc­cer team is the sub­ject of an eight-minute doc­u­men­tary that aired on ESPN and ABC

The film, The Save,” was one of six short doc­u­men­taries shot for ESPN’s HERo­ics” series, which high­light­ed the courage and bar­ri­er-break­ing efforts of women as part of the network’s Women’s World Cup cov­er­age. It was cre­at­ed by Oscar-nom­i­nat­ed direc­tor Aman­da Micheli. 

Soc­cer can make a dif­fer­ence in people’s life because it’s about con­nec­tion; it’s not just about kick­ing a ball around,” Cas­tane­da said in the film. It’s about feel­ing like you’re suc­cess­ful, and being part of a family.” 

The one-time soc­cer stand­out has won raves for her suc­cess in build­ing the Aztecas and a sec­ond team, the Tolte­cas. Both teams are com­posed main­ly of youth on pro­ba­tion and are coached by vol­un­teer pro­ba­tion officers.

The film chron­i­cles Castaneda’s pover­ty-rid­dled child­hood grow­ing up on a straw­ber­ry farm and the refuge she found as a star play­er on her high school soc­cer team. Her suc­cess on the field earned a schol­ar­ship to San Fran­cis­co State University. 

Soc­cer saved my life,” Cas­tane­da said. And now I teach soc­cer to give back what some­body gave to me.”

The Aztecas began as a vehi­cle for giv­ing youth on Castenada’s pro­ba­tion case­load an oppor­tu­ni­ty to play team sports. It start­ed as a vol­un­tary pro­gram but grew into a for­mal one sup­port­ed by the JDAI Mod­el Site in San­ta Cruz Coun­ty and local busi­ness­es and residents.

Gina is a sur­vivor, and she has tru­ly cap­tured a way to use sports for social change,” Miche­li said. What fuels her pas­sion for her work is that she believes in these kids. She knows what they are deal­ing with at home and on the streets.” 

Gina is also fea­tured in a 15-minute video for TED-San­ta Cruz.

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