Homegrown Talent: Alumnus Axel Chicas Reflects on Family and Community as He Joins Howard University Soccer Program

1-f91f99.png This fall, Axel is fulfilling a lifelong dream to play college soccer.

Since elementary school, DC SCORES alumnus Axel Chicas has been working towards one goal. “All my life, I really wanted to go to college and I really wanted to play soccer,” he says.

This fall, the eighteen-year-old will realize his dream when he enrolls at Howard University as a member of its Division 1 Men’s Soccer team. The young midfielder cannot wait to immerse himself in life on campus. “At Howard, I’m giving myself the best opportunity to succeed, not only on the field but off it,” he says.

Axel’s path to becoming a Howard Bison is almost a decade in the making, a journey that he says reflects not only his own hard work but that of his many supporters, including at DC SCORES.

“DC SCORES taught me to build connections with the community around me. Without my friends, my family, my coaches, I would not be at the place I am today,” Axel says. “You look back at it and it’s incredible what DC SCORES did for me.”

Discovering Soccer

During the college recruitment process, Axel had one deal-breaker: “I’ve been in DC all my life and I could not see myself moving in a million years,” he stresses.

Axel believes his DC community, especially his family members in the city, is crucial to his success. As a young child growing up in the District, Axel was initially a bigger fan of basketball than soccer. Then, at around nine years old, he accompanied his younger brother, Chris, to soccer practice.

Chris, who is three years younger than Axel and has been playing soccer since he was old enough to kick a ball, easily outmatched his brother. “Being the competitive brother, I was not gonna let that happen!” recalls Axel.

Urged on by their father, who played for a second-division professional soccer team as a young man in El Salvador, the brothers soon became gifted players. Fortunately, they had a place where they could channel that talent: the DC SCORES team at Bancroft Elementary School.

“At our school, soccer was everything. Everybody was talking about DC SCORES at recess,” remembers Axel. “I thought, ‘I gotta get involved.’ I really wanted to play on the team.”

2-4a0fc0.png Axel began playing soccer as a nine-year-old to keep up with his younger brother, Chris. Photo courtesy of Axel Chicas.

“Always Building Bonds”

Axel’s first DC SCORES game was against Tubman Elementary School. “I remember I scored that day. It felt good, it was basically teasing what the whole season was gonna be about,” he fondly recalls.

A talented playmaker, Axel was invested in winning, but being part of the Bancroft team was also about much more.

“My favorite thing about soccer is the experience you have off the field, the bond you have with your team. That’s how you make great friends. Some of the people I played DC SCORES with I’m still great friends with to this day,” he says.

Chris, who followed Axel onto the Bancroft team, agrees. “DC SCORES taught me what a teammate should be: always supporting, always building bonds,” Chris says.

The brothers also found mentors through the DC SCORES program. As natural talents, they caught the eye of a legendary DC SCORES coach, Mark “Popsie” Lewis, who Axel describes as an inspiration to this day.

Lewis brought the boys to a summer camp hosted by Open Goal Project, a District nonprofit organization that connects talented players from low-income families to opportunities to play elite soccer.

“Open Goal coaches, like Coach Popsie and Amir [Lowery], have taught us a lot,” says Chris. “They look out for you,” Axel adds, “Make sure you’re on top of things and doing well at school and with your family.”

3-ef6f20.png Axel credits his growth as an athlete to numerous supporters throughout his life. He is pictured here with Open Goal Project Coach Amir Lowery (left), his brother Chris (center left), and Howard coach and DC SCORES Senior Program Director Jason Gross (right).

Staying Grounded Through DC SCORES

Even as Axel and Chris pursued more competitive soccer opportunities at Open Goal Project, their continued participation in DC SCORES, and its poetry program, allowed them to remain grounded in their lives off the field.

“Some of my favorite SCORES moments were the soccer tournaments like Fall Frenzy and Jamboree, but I also loved the poetry slams. It was very fun to watch the other schools perform their wonderful poems,” recalls Chris.

Axel has fond memories of DC SCORES poetry, too. “One of my friends performed the individual poem [at slam]. It was about his immigration story and how he came to the school,” he says. “It was also about his grandfather and his grandfather’s guitar. I remember that poem so well. He spoke it in Spanish and it was so impactful.”

It is not surprising that this poem made such an impression on Axel, who is extremely committed to his family.

“My parents want the best of us,” he says. “My dad is always around for soccer and we always talk on the way to games and practices. And though my mom is not that involved in soccer, she makes sure we stay on top of school, and other parts of our life.”

He pauses before adding, “That’s something I really don’t want to let go of just yet.”

4-23832d.png One of Axel’s favorite aspects of playing soccer is the bonds he has built with his teammates over the years. Photo courtesy of Axel Chicas.

Giving Back to DC

While Howard’s convenient location in DC, and proximity to family, was a major draw for Axel, the success of its soccer program was also very appealing.

“When you go and watch the Howard team train, they’re hungry, they wanna play, they wanna be there,” he says. “I’m happy I’m in an environment around that.”

Howard has long been a driver of growing soccer in DC and was instrumental in the foundation of DC SCORES. A large part of the school’s success rests on developing homegrown talent.

“As someone who is deeply invested in both DC SCORES and the soccer program at Howard, it’s been so rewarding to bring Axel into the Bison family,” says Jason Gross, Senior Program Director of Soccer and Operations at DC SCORES and an Assistant Coach for the Men’s Soccer Team at Howard.

Gross, who first began playing through an early iteration of the DC SCORES program and went on to captain the Howard team, knows firsthand the opportunities that soccer has to offer talented young players in the District.

“Playing soccer opened so many doors for me, it allowed me to go to a top college, travel the world, and advance my career,” says Gross. “I’m so excited to see Axel take that same journey, and to help him mature as a student, athlete, and person.”

Ultimately, being part of Howard’s DC legacy is what most excites Axel about his next step. “When you’re playing soccer, you visit different places in the city and you think, ‘Oh, this is where I want to be,” he says.

At Howard, Axel hopes to study sociology or physiotherapy, career paths that will enable him to help others. “The people around me are just so loving when it comes to doing their job,” he says. “I want to give that back to my community.”

5-a10c83.png Axel has already played his first competitive minutes for the Howard team. Photo courtesy of Axel Chicas.

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