Wagner Soccer has spent 3 years in Brazil developing friendships and partnerships that are culturally significant for those in the U.S. as well as those living in Brazil. Our Tangará project was started last summer as part of the Wagner Soccer Intercambio (Exchange) program. The program started out as a way for American children to understand what soccer is to those around the world. It ended up being a culturally significant event in the Northeast of Brazil.
Through the joint work of Miguel Delima (Delima Soccer Enterprises), ABC Futebol Clube (Natal), SEI of Tangará, Master Zezinho (Capoeira Celeiros de Bambas), the Federal University of the State of Rio Grande do Norte, and Josimar Lima (Josa Project), Wagner Soccer developed a platform by which children in the United States and Brazil could learn what it was like to participate in activities together. What was most significant was the Girls Soccer Initiative that Bob Wagner commenced in 2012 and came to fruition in 2014.
Wagner Soccer Tour 2012
In 2012, Wagner Soccer ran its first international tour to Rio de Janeiro. The purpose was to introduce players to Brazilian soccer and culture. The hope was for the Americans to start to understand what it was to be a Brazilian, where soccer is about family, community and passion. At the end of the tour, Bob Wagner and his family stayed in Brazil, so they could see more of the country where Bob was born and lived when he was young. They travelled north to Natal, with the idea of staying for a month. They stayed for 6.
During the stay in Natal, Bob’s children participated in activities with Brazilian friends. They played soccer as well as capoeira and they learned Portuguese and Brazilian customs. One of the things that struck Bob’s family was that girls had the ability to follow any path they wanted. They could achieve anything, including the Presidency. But, there is one thing girls are discouraged from participating in. That is the part of the culture most significant to Brazilians. It is soccer. Girls are passionate about soccer the same as the boys, but their ability to play in organized ways is rare. It is cultural, so any type of organized program is seen as irrelevant and not supported.
While living in Natal Bob Wagner and his family saw this up close and personally. Samantha Wagner, (11 years-old at the time and an avid soccer player) was told she couldn’t participate in soccer because there was nowhere for her to play. The only programs available would mean she would have to participate with the boys. While her brothers participated in training and academies in different escolinhas (small soccer schools) and with the ABC Futebol Clube, Samantha, like all other girls could not participate.
We asked the coaches to give her a chance. Because she was American, they did. Samantha participated and immediately had an impact because of her play and because it created a vision of what was possible. While there, Samantha and her brothers were featured in an article about their experiences. Word was growing about the American girl who played soccer at ABC (1st Division Brazilian Club). After a few months of Samantha playing soccer with the boys, a fantastic thing happened. Another girl joined the Academy. By the time the Wagners left Natal in 2012, there were 4 Brazilian girls in the Academy. The girls were fantastic players, but now they had a window to follow their passion, the same as their brothers and fathers before them.
Girls Soccer Initiative - Natal, Brazil
Wagner Soccer worked with its Brazilian partners to develop a means by which girls could have organized soccer programs. Brazilian culture does not provide for these types of opportunities for young Brazilian girls. Girls play soccer in Brazil, but it is with friends and family. Clubs do not have programs like what is available in the United States.
Upon arriving back in the United States, Bob Wagner started planning the next tour for 2014. This tour would be different. It would be centered in Natal and would continue the idea of cultural change. The idea that just by introducing the idea of change and following-through with it, change is possible, even if only in one community.
Delima Soccer Enterprises
In 2013, Bob Wagner started working with Miguel Delima (Delima Soccer Enterprises) to plan how it would be possible to continue what was started in 2012. Miguel Delima is a famous Brazilian soccer player who played with and is friends with Pele. He is also an international figure in youth soccer training. Miguel is from Natal and still lives part of the year there, where he is well known to everyone in the soccer community. Miguel has lived in the United States since the 1970’s, when he played in the NASL. His work with soccer in the United States has led him to become a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and he won two National Championships at St. Louis University as the head coach. His experience living in the United States and having daughters who grew up in America immediately bonded Miguel to the idea of starting a Girls project in Natal with the hope for slow cultural change.
The Initiative had begun. While Bob Wagner worked in the United States to put together a girls group to travel to Natal, Miguel was working with the people at the highest level of soccer in Natal and the surrounding regions. He worked with the Academy trainers with ABC Futebol Clube, people from surrounding communities who ran escolinhas and those in the University systems around Natal.
The word was out that there was going to be an International Exchange (Intercambio) with American boys and girls and that there was now a reason to put girls together to organize and form teams. Word of the initiative spread and it created a buzz that was needed to put the program together.
SEI (Tangará, RN)
SEI is the Club in the small city of Tangará, which is roughly 60 minutes to the interior of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Nildo Angelo, who runs the training for the Club and is the head coach was first to jump on board this program. He was already working with some girls in his club and this provided the impetus for him to grow the number of girls who could participate.
The month of March 2014 was a special one for the Federal University of the State of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), in Natal. This month was designated as the month in which girls and women would have access to programs that were otherwise strictly for their male counterparts. Soccer was one of those programs and during that time, UFRN setup an opportunity for girls to practice and play soccer at school. Bob Wagner met with the faculty organizer and created a plan for this new group to participate with the American girls in the Intercambio.
2014 Wagner Soccer Intercambio
Miguel Delima worked with Bob Wagner, SEI, ABC, and UFRN in Brazil to setup the 10 day Wagner Soccer Intercambio in August of 2014. Three games were setup. Two games were against SEI of Tangará and one against the UFRN college team.
“Major International Event”
The Wagner Soccer teams were welcomed to Tangará with much fanfare for the “Major International Event.” The city was closed down, including the schools and the Americans were welcomed like celebrities.
The girls team from SEI was playing in their first match against another girls team. It was also the first time most of the residents of Tangará had met anyone from the United States. All levels of government in the region were present to observe something that was truly life changing for those from that region as well as the American kids who participated.
The 2014 Intercambio was just the beginning. The window was opened and now it was time to start planning for more ambitious ways to create change. Following the great day in Tangará, the parties that put this together met to share their experiences and to start to plan for 2016. Gifts were exchanged and thoughts of what was possible were floated, to be worked on individually, for the betterment of the group.
2016 Wagner Soccer Intercambio (July - August, 2016)
On September 2, 2015, Bob Wagner, Nildo Angelo and Miguel Delima met in Natal to start planning for the next immersive program for Wagner Soccer and SEI. What is being planned for this project is nothing less than extraordinary for the participants.
Wagner Soccer will once again be bringing a group of boys and girls to Brazil for the summer of 2016. This time, the program is one of cultural immersion. The Wagner Soccer group will be staying for 6 weeks in Brazil. In that time they will be learning Portuguese, Capoeira, and living very much like a Brazilian would. The goal is not to play soccer against Brazilian players, but to immerse themselves in the lives of Brazilians. To truly understand what it is like to be a kid in Brazil. The kids will not participate against SEI or other soccer escolinhas in Natal. Instead they will train with those escolinhas and the coaches who run them. The Americans and Brazilians will join together and teach each other about customs, language, friendship, and soccer.
Josa Project - Coach Josimar Lira
In addition to SEI, Wagner Soccer will also work with Josimar Lira and his Josa Project in Pium, outside of Natal. This escolinha brings together kids of all ages to train with coach Josimar, who devotes his life to providing fields and training to kids who don’t have access to it. Wagner Soccer will be bringing soccer equipment from the United States to help coach Josimar with his project.
Capoeira Celeiro de Bambas - C. Mestre Zezinho
Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that integrates the beauty of dance with the core discipline of traditional martial arts. In 2012, Bob Wagner met Professor Zezinho, who is one of the foremost instructors of Capoeira in the region of Natal. Zezinho is the head master for the Capoeira Celeiro de Bambas school. As part of the program, Zezinho and other instructors and students in the school, participate in programs throughout the community, for tourists and native Brazilians alike. The foundation of the program is about community and respect. Those who participate in the programs with Zezinho are taught to be good citizens and respectful of those around them. Zezinho’s project is bigger than Capoeira. He has spent many years working with children and adults in the community of Planalto. His program provides the kids of Planalto with a needed escape from potential problems in their lives. The 7 day a week program teaches discipline, respect, athleticism, and community.
In Brazil, Capoeira has its own passionate following, just as much as soccer. Capoeira for Brazilians is not about fighting, but about passion and enjoyment. The daily training is done with friends and those people who are most considered family.
Bob Wagner met Zezinho in 2012 through a friend who participated. After watching a show, Bob’s children started to train in a class in the tourist section of Natal. After many weeks, Bob and his family were invited into Planalto to participate in a Roda, which is a Friday night festival of Capoeira. It is a time in which all levels of participants get together and show their skill. It is a festive time where beginners and masters alike can share in their passion.
Since 2012, Bob’s family has become part of the community in Planalto. Bob and Zezinho have setup programs to help the community, specifically those who Zezinho has most direct contact with. Bob’s children train in Capoeira with Brazilian counterparts in Zezinho’s community and they now share the passion of their friends.
English and Math Classes
The community in Planalto does not have access to many of the types of services that provide citizens the opportunity to find successful employment, long-term. In Natal and in Brazil in general, strong English and Math skills are a necessity. Because stronger education is often found in the Private schools in Brazil, those who attend public schools are immediately at a disadvantage, which is what most families in Planalto can afford to attend.
Bob Wagner’s family started tutoring English and Math to Zezinho’s community in 2012. Wagner Soccer will be working with Zezinho to build the proper foundation of infrastructure and materials to help change the paths of many within the community, using education. Zezinho will have the means to not only provide a safe environment for kids, following the passion of their lives, but we will now be able to provide an educational component to the children, who are most in need.
2014 Community Park Project
During the 2014 Wagner Soccer Intercambio, Bob Wagner and Zezinho planned a service project for the kids and families from the tour to help within the community of Planalto. The project was a full-day clean-up of a park that the community used for festivals and gatherings. The “Capoeira Park” was an important symbol of unity for this neighborhood and in 2012, the Wagner Family attended community parties there. By 2014, because of a lack of tools and financial means to keep up with the maintenance, the park was in disrepair and was overgrown with weeds, rocks, and many other things that kept residents from being able to use it.
Wagner Soccer Intercambio participants spent a day cleaning, weeding, and preparing the park for the community. In one day, 40 American children and adults were able to transform the park back to being a usable location for the community to celebrate life together.
After the project, children and adults from the community came out and fed the Americans a traditional Brazilian meal, played music and then both communities (Americans and Brazilians) used the park for games and Capoeira. It was a very special event in the lives of the community and it was something that the Americans and residents of that community will never forget.
A year later, we are proud to know that the community has kept up with the maintenance of the park and it is still being used for community gatherings and capoeira.
2016 Wagner Soccer Intercambio
The 2016 Wagner Soccer Intercambio will be immersed with Zezinho and his community. The participants will train in capoeira. They will also participate with Brazilians within the community. Similar to how the Americans will interact with Brazilians in soccer escolinhas, they will be immersed into the culture and language of Brazil through capoeira.
The Wagner Soccer group will also participate in service projects in Planalto as well. It will be our responsibility to help foster an educational environment though English and Math tutoring and Bob Wagner and Zezinho are working on community based projects to be able to make infrastructure change to assist the community with long-term success for its residents.
Passion, Respect, Community, and Family are what participants of the Wagner Soccer Intercambio will experience. It will change perspective and will change lives for those participating from the United States and for those who are welcoming them in Brazil.