When Playworks—then Sports4Kids—coach Max Langaard arrived at Manzanita school, Matthew Bailey was a shy third-grader. At home, he’d try to stay out of everyone’s way, and at school, he rarely spoke up during class. But Coach Max saw him differently. He saw leadership potential in Matthew and encouraged him to sign-up to be a junior coach.
Under Coach Max’s guidance, Matthew had already begun to see the crowded recess yard change. “He took charge of a lot of things, he made sure everything was organized and stuff like that. There weren’t as many conflicts because he was teaching kids how to talk to people, instead of always arguing or fighting.” Matthew wanted to play a part—to be just like Coach Max. “I used to always look up to and want to be like him. So I figured that was a good starting point.”
Becoming a junior coach meant extra responsibility for Matthew, but also an opportunity to lead and a sense of pride: “We used to have purple shirts that said Sports4Kids on them, then it said Junior Coach on the front. [Coach Max] gave them out to every one of us. He was like, ‘This is your uniform, you’re gonna wear it, just when you’re at recess, you don’t have to wear it all day.’ It was really cool to have something like that. I think the first day I got it I wore it all day. I was like, ‘Nope, you know, I’m a Junior Coach.’”
In the two years Matthew spent as a Junior Coach, Matthew went from quiet to a leader on the playground. It’s something that, years later, Coach Max still remembers. “He was really supportive with the whole climate of the school…He was one of those kids that got there before anybody else, even before Playworks really had morning recess, he was always there helping out other kids.” Matthew lived for basketball. He was a natural at managing the basketball courts and sometimes even refereeing a game or two.
The connection between Coach Max and Matthew was immediate and evolved into a strong bond. “By a month in to it, we had a fake RnB group called M&M, and we’d perform for kids and sing and do funny dances. It was an immediate connection and we’ve stuck together. I’ve embraced him as my family,” says Coach Max.
Matthew feels the same way, calling Coach Max a father figure who’s always been there for him. “He became someone that I could always talk to. When my aunt died, he was like the only teacher that really knew about it, and he showed up to the funeral and everything.” More recently, Matthew attended Coach Max’s wedding.
Coach Max believes that this bond is a testament to Playworks and the way that coaches are able to connect with Junior Coaches at a deeper and more personal level. But it didn’t wane when Matthew graduated from Manzanita. Matthew moved in with his mother in Fairfield in middle school, but Coach Max and Matthew kept in close touch by phone. And when Matthew’s mom, a former drug addict, relapsed, and Matthew came back to Oakland to live with an aunt a week before high school started, Coach Max helped him find his way his way to a unique school called MetWest. There, Coach Max explains, “He started blooming.”
As part of the school’s unique internship program, on half-days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Matthew would take the bus back to Manzanita to intern with Coach Max on the playground. “Talk about throwing yourself back in the community and mentoring people…and it’s so funny because before he was so little and now he’s this big kid, 6’3’’.”
Now, Matthew works as an after-school coordinator at Manzanita, so Matthew and Coach Max see each other everyday. Things have come more or less full circle; Matthew now has his own cohort of kids to watch over. “I try to use all the things I learned from Coach Max in order to keep the kids busy…I get to teach them what I learned and I get to teach them how to be good people and play safely and do things like that.”
Matthew is also taking classes at Laney Community College and hopes to transfer to a four-year college, maybe Cal State East Bay, to get a degree in psychology to work with kids. “I want to help kids that just don’t have anyone to talk to, or want someone to be there for them,” Matthew explains. Just like Coach Max.