After arriving at Arroyo Park in the city, South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti hopped off his bike wearing a helmet, jacket and warm-up athletic attire, ready to deliver on a promise to meet with a youth soccer team.
Asa (his last name omitted at the request of his parents), who plays for the AYSO U10 boys’ sectional all-stars, informed his coach he wanted to meet the mayor. In an email to Cacciotti, Mauro Zappaterra, who coaches the squad, said, “I know this is a long shot,” citing the mayor’s busy schedule, hoping he’d find the time. “Would there be any way for you to make an appearance at our practice to satisfy this boy’s dream and give us some inspiration for the season?”
Not only did Cacciotti oblige, welcoming the opportunity, but joked after attending the team’s workout last week, “They looked at me like that’s the mayor, perhaps expecting someone to show up in a 3-piece suit and tie.” The only giveaway that the man in the casual attire held a high office was the South Pasadena city seal worn on his jacket.
“I told them this is the new style of mayor for the year 2022,” Cacciotti joked laughing, before explaining his mayoral role to the seated group, including Asa, who wasn’t told of the surprise visit.
“It was pretty cool,” said the mayor. “For a person who has been around the sport for more than 30 years as a AYSO soccer coach, high school coach, college coach, I jumped at the opportunity right away.”
Following a quick reply to Zappaterra, the two settled on a date for Cacciotti to attend a practice, and it was a done deal. Lieutenant Shannon Robledo of the South Pasadena Police Department, who has had similar experiences in talking to youth over the years, joined the mayor along with Mary Jerejian, the city’s management analyst in city manager’s office, which includes social media among her duties.
Cacciotti, standing before the players and their parents, made an analogy to soccer in describing the role of a city’s highest office. “A mayor and your council are kind of like a coach and his assistant coaches,” he explained. “Cities have rules, policies and strategies just like coaches and assistant coaches. People in the police and fire departments, the library, in public works and in recreation form our team. Like soccer, we all work together for success.”
Later the mayor and Robledo scrimmaged with players – Cacciotti now removing his jacket and donning red soccer shoes – playing on one team, the lieutenant on the other, as they moved up and down the field, enjoying the action for about 25 minutes.
Cacciotti then gathered the team and parents together for some final thoughts, thanking the coaches for donating hundreds of hours while telling the team: “The purpose here is not to win, but to develop good sportsmanship, respect each other, including the coaches and referees, learn the fundamentals and develop your skills. In the end you want to be a good player.”
In his inspirational message, Robledo added, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, what matters is you tried your best.”
Zappaterra, a physician, specializing in integrative non-pharmacological methods to treat chronic pain, said he feels “blessed to have this opportunity” to coach the all-star unit. “I love our community and this is just one small thing I can do to help it now, and hopefully teach kids to be responsible for a better future. I am so grateful to Mayor Michael for making his appearance to our practice, playing with the kids, and sharing his words of wisdom. I feel as if, with mayors such as Michael, we are in a good place for this city and this community.”
Prior to Cacciotti’s appearance, the coach said Asa regularly asked if by being on a team that traveled and hosted other cities he would someday have a chance to meet the mayor. “I am grateful for the organization and I wanted to be proud to represent the city and people I play for, and I wanted to meet the mayor who represents the city,” Zappaterra recalls the boy saying.
The AYSO Sectional All-Star team is comprised of nine members, all 8 and 9 year olds who were ranked among the top soccer players in South Pasadena during the regular AYSO soccer season and all-star tryouts by their coaches.
At the conclusion of the mayor’s visit, each of the team members received a City of South Pasadena pin. Robledo presented each with SPPD police patches.
When Zappaterra’s son, Micah, who plays for the club, returned home he anxiously exclaimed, “Mama, I played soccer with the mayor, and it was so much fun.”
Not only was it enjoyable for the players, but a worthwhile experience for Cacciotti, who called it “a great day to talk about the real principles of AYSO soccer. It’s more about the fun, learning the sport, getting along with others and teaching life lessons. That’s what Coach Mauro is all about.”
The following day, in an email to Cacciotti, the soccer coach enthused, “Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for what you did for the kids yesterday by coming out to the soccer field with the lieutenant, putting on your cleats, playing soccer with the kids, teaching them about the mayor and the duties for the city, and teaching them life lessons,” he wrote. “I am so deeply grateful for your actions that words cannot express.”
The local police department makes it a regular practice to hold a “Coffee with a Cop” designed to bring officers and community members together – over coffee – and discuss issues around town while getting to know each other better.
With a suggestion coming from Zappaterra, another of its kind could be in the works featuring the sport he coaches.
“Maybe this could be the beginning of a ‘Soccer with the Mayor’ tradition for the kids in South Pasadena,” he said.
And to that, a smiling Cacciotti replied, “I like it. Maybe it could.”