One thing the Sounders FC has garnered a reputation for is their work in the community.
From their projects that have raised thousands of dollars for local charities to their community appearances by players, coaches and staff. Whether it be 2009 Sounders FC Humanitarian of the Year Taylor Graham acting on the Board of Directors for the Seattle chapter of America SCORES or Steve Zakuani starting his own non-profit, Kingdom Hope (www.kingdom-hope.org).
At the forefront of that has been James Riley.
On Sunday when the Des Moines and Federal Way-based Special Olympics soccer team was recognized with the Golden Scarf, it was the culmination of the players’ lifelong efforts on the field. Recently, Riley has been a big part of those efforts, doing work with the Special Olympics and coaching the team that was honored Sunday.
“I knew they would be thrilled,” said Riley, who was equally excited when he learned while in El Salvador that they would get the Golden Scarf. “It culminated perfectly with our win and them getting the Golden Scarf.”
Riley started working with Special Olympics last year after he attended their annual breakfast and was approached afterward by a young boy who wanted to meet the Sounders defender. Riley invited the boy and his family to a Sounders game and ever since Riley has kept close ties to the organization.
“I wanted to stay involved, so I coached the Special Olympics team this summer. I jumped at that opportunity and it was a fantastic experience for me,” Riley said. “It was a great group of kids that enjoy the game of soccer. It was a pleasure to be able to work with them.”
Riley has, throughout his MLS career, had a heavy involvement in the community. Growing up in a single-parent family, he didn’t have a lot of the luxuries that many of his friends had in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He considers himself lucky to have had understanding families surround him that helped him excel at soccer without his mother making heavy sacrifices to her work that would have pushed his family down.
“I grew up with a single mom and wasn’t well off financially. She just worked very hard and I was fortunate to have soccer as a way out,” he said. “A lot of families did a lot to help me stay on that track, from picking me up to paying my entrance fees. So I’ve always felt the need to give back whenever I can.”
That has led to work with the Renton/Skyway Boys and Girls Club, Children’s Hospital, Seattle SCORES, Ronald McDonald House, Susan G. Komen and Gilda’s Club. And, ultimately, coaching in the Special Olympics.
“We’re not going over tactics, we’re just kicking the ball around, teaching them how to shoot, doing goal celebrations, some passing, some dribbling and just getting them exercise,” Riley said. “Helping those kids and seeing them smile and being able to kick it around with them brings a smile to my face.”