MARTIN JACOBSON … 5 NEW YORK CITY TITLES IN THE LAST EIGHT YEARS … OVER 1,000 CAREER WINS AS A HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER COACH … OVERALL WINNING PERCENTAGE OF 93% … 30 YEARS COACHING AT MANHATTAN CENTER HIGH SCHOOL, LAGUARDIA HIGH SCHOOL, AND MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HIGH SCHOOL A coach isn’t as smart as they say when he wins, or as stupid when he loses. DARRELL ROYAL, longtime University of Texas football coach 206 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME Istarted playing soccer at ten and began coaching right out of college at Ball State in 1968 and just never stopped. I never saw color, race, or country, I just walked through the hallways of every high school I worked at, saw talent, and formed a team. I took over a team at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in 1993 that was 0-12-1. We won the division in 1994. By 1996, we began a streak where we won eight championships and lost two finals in ten years. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? The way I accomplished this was get into my players’ hearts and souls. It never ended when practice was over. I had to get involved in their lives. Most of my kids had to work to support their families; many were new immigrants to this country and came here with nothing. Once I showed that I cared about my kids, they would bring their cousins and brothers in and a legacy was born.
I’d help these kids take the test to get into the school and if they got in they had to show that it wasn’t all about soccer. It was about the grades, the work, and meshing into the American culture. Eighty-five percent of my kids graduate, and the majority go on to college. I’m much prouder of that than any title we’ve ever won. It’s at the point now where our team gets so much attention that our top player is usually one of the top national recruits. But I care as much about the twenty-fifth man on the roster as I care about the thirty-goal scorer. MY STYLE I am as intense as Bobby Knight, but I’m mellow-intense. I’m not a screamer. I have a peaceful inside and it’s probably because of my spiritual beliefs. I think the kids pick up on that and they trust me. Most of these kids are Muslims from Africayou scream out the name Muhammad at practice and maybe nine kids will turn aroundand yet they listen to a Jewish coach. MARTIN JACOBSON 207 IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY Jacobson is successful because he has no life except us. FORMER MLK PL AYER Most high school coaches don’t do it for the moneymy first job was for $5,300. I’m not exactly living the high life now and I have three jobs: athletic director, guidance counselor, and coach. It’s about passion, and it’s my life.
I often have these kids over for holidays and make sure they check in with me every day, even when we’re not in season. JUST HAPPY TO GIVE BACK This year, I’m twenty years clean from heroin and this gives me inspiration and a new zest for life. I’d been shot and stabbed while scoring drugs. Surviving that has changed my life and my coaching philosophy forever. This is my second chance and I do not plan on blowing it. There is a sign in my office that says, playing soccer for mlk is about getting a better life. And it’s true. I really think it’s about the heart, not the hardware. It’s about the kids and the success stories, like a kid I coached from Mali who is now in medical school.
FINAL THOUGHT I would hope that someone describes me as a coach who cares about the kids, not a guy who wins championships. Drop by my basement office at 2:45 and you’ll see that it’s packed. If you listen, you’ll hear very little talk about soccer. Instead, we talk about life. I listen to my kids’ real-life struggles about trying to fit into this country and the hard times they left behind in their native lands. MY WRAP Stats don’t lie. Coach Jacobson has had incredible on-field and off-field success with some of the toughest new immigrants to our country. As with many of us, Martin does not claim to have lived a perfect life, but like most of the people in this book, he’s learned from his mistakes and has made an enormous impact on the lives of others. Martin has used sports to make that impact and he’s not about to stop. I see a movie coming out of this!
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