Fairhill: Volleyball Coach Inspires Young Girls

Coach Santos instructed his players on proper technique.


Volleyball is not commonly played or even thought to be an elite sport for many kids of Puerto Rican heritage in Fairhill. But one man has taken his love of the game and quest to get neighborhood kids healthy and moving to heart.

Coach Luis Santos brought the ball and net sport to an underserved Fairhill community at the Rivera Community Center at 3201 N. Fifth St.

Coach Santos instructed his players on proper technique.

Santos is a welder working the overnight shift to make a living for himself and his family and a dedicated volleyball coach for young girls and teenagers from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I’ve been here [Philadelphia] for eight years and I’ve never seen volleyball played in North Philly,” Santos said. “There’s a lot of Spanish people here. Why no volleyball?”

Santos said he hopes he’s making an impact. His ultimate goal is to get one of his girls to play beyond the community center.

“I tried to start a practice here and maybe in one or two years there will be more volleyball in North Philly,” Santos said. “I’m starting now and maybe with the girls who are 9-12, maybe I will get one girl to college [to play].”

Besides getting his players to the next level and keeping them off the couch and the streets, Santos has his own personal reasons for why physical fitness is so important to not only himself and his family, but the children in his community.

Santos was diagnosed with diabetes seven years ago and he has made it his mission to fight the disease by staying in shape by bicycling and coaching.  His son, Wesly Santos, 17, said he’s proud of all his father has accomplished.

“I think he’s doing an amazing job because he’s teaching girls that didn’t even know how to play or hit a ball,” the younger Santos said. “And by taking his time out of working on the house or his job, I think he’s doing a terrific job.”

The American Diabetes Association’s research finds nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States or a little more than 8 percent of the population has diabetes. Even more alarming, some 79 million people show signs of pre-diabetes. As of 2010 data, about one in every 400 children and teens has diabetes. Among Latinos, Puerto Ricans have the highest rate of patients diagnosed with diabetes at 13.8 percent. Mexican-Americans ran second at 13.3 percent.

Complications from diabetes, such as heart disease, kidney disease and amputations ensure Luis Santos and his family do all they can to keep his diabetes in check. Santos is concerned for his children because research shows they have a predisposition to the disease. His daughter, Melanys Santos, 19, is a freshman at Eastern University. She said her father is very protective of the family’s health.

“He’s very careful with us,” Santos said. “It’s very important to him especially because of his diabetes. He influences us. People need to exercise and do whatever they need to do because if you stay at home and play video games and watch TV, all you’re going to do is get unhealthy and it can lead to obesity and diabetes.”

Santos’ daughter stays active playing volleyball and helps her father coach the younger girls. Unfortunately for Melanys, Eastern University doesn’t offer volleyball as a competitive sport.

A volleyball player passed the ball back to the other side.

Wesly said his father has plans for expanding the volleyball program at the center to boys as well once the girls’ team takes off.

“He’s (Coach Santos) mainly concentrating on girls because they are the most interested in the city and volleyball isn’t a big sport that’s out,” said the high school senior. “It’s mostly baseball and basketball. So at first he wanted to start a team with girls because he knew a lot of them would come. Eventually, if it grows and he gets more time in the center’s gym, he will do a boys volleyball team.”

The elder Santos has made coaching young girls a family affair. Both his teenagers assist with the coaching and utilize the time to work on their own individual volleyball techniques.

“I’m here to coach too and help my dad with the girls and train them so he can make a full volleyball team,” Wesly  said. I love volleyball. I’ve been playing since I was a little kid and when I go to college next semester, I want to get on the volleyball team. Hopefully, I can go to the Olympics and play with the U.S.A. team—that’s a dream.”

Coach Santos is appreciative of his kids’ help and even more enthusiastic about his chances of encouraging more girls in the community to come out and play.

“I started in March–on my first day I had one girl and now I have 18,” Santos said.

Santos and his assistant coaches encourage any girl ages 9-18 to join their volleyball team in the Rivera Community Center. The younger girls practice on Fridays and the teens meet on Wednesdays.







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