For Jesus Miranda, scoring goals goes far beyond the reaches of the soccer field. The long-time athlete has taken on the task of Soccer League Director for Portage Parks, working with youth to achieve the best they can on and off the field.
“Soccer, to me, is my life,” Miranda said. “I have been talking about soccer, playing soccer, for as long as I can remember. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to start coaching and getting involved with soccer here in Portage.”
Miranda, a Portage resident, found himself in this position in an unconventional way: while he was applying for the other job he still holds, as a sanitary worker for the City of Portage. Miranda mentioned his interest in the sport during the initial interview, and the city later contacted him to take on heading the league.
On a regular day, Miranda wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to begin the day’s route in his garbage truck, continuing his labor until 3:00 p.m., when he can head home and try to get in a bite to eat before leaving again. After a short break, he heads out to the fields for the rest of the afternoon, switching his work clothes for athletic wear.
Once he is out at the park, he surveys the many practices taking place among different age groups.
“I take care of my team,” Miranda said. “I coach. and I help coaches working with their teams. I start off by seeing if they need help doing a drill or a session. Then, I go around and make sure all of the practices are going fine.”
At 8 p.m. he calls it a wrap and comes home to sleep and prepare to repeat the process. It may be time consuming, but every minute on the field is worth it to Miranda.
“It’s just one of those things I love to do,” he said.
He manages about 200 kids, ages 3 to 14 years old, all divided into about 28 teams.
When Miranda isn’t working his routes or coaching, he plays in a men’s league in Valparaiso and enjoys time with family members who live in the area. One of his hobbies is an old tradition, watching soccer with the man who introduced him to the sport: his dad.
“My mom says I’ve been a soccer player ever since I was in her belly,” Miranda said. “When I would start to kick, she and my dad could see my foot. My dad would say, ‘Yeah, he’s definitely going to be a soccer player.’”
Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, Miranda has played soccer since he was three years old and has countless happy memories of kicking the ball with his dad. Even today, his father comes to watch Miranda’s teams play and offers his coaching advice on the sidelines.
“It was always one of those things we’ve had in common,” Miranda said. “I always wanted him to be proud of me in that way. He’d always be on the sideline coaching me, even when I already had a coach. It’s made for a better bond between us.”
Miranda has played soccer from first grade to senior year of high school, ultimately playing at Chesterton High School after his family moved, where his team won the sectionals against Valparaiso High School. Throughout his youth, many mentors made strong impressions in his life that he has not forgotten.
“I love working with kids,” Miranda said. “From day one to the end of the season, I like seeing how much they progress. All of my coaches left a stamp in my life. They didn’t just coach me in soccer; they coached me in life. You can tell if a kid is having a bad day at school, or maybe going through family problems. When I see that, I always try talking to them, asking how they’re doing. I want to do what my coaches did for me.”
Miranda does what he does because he knows the positive impact soccer can have on youth. Being healthy, making friends and doing something productive and fun are some of the important outlets the sport provides. It also adds more opportunities to students’ futures. Recently, a girl Miranda was coaching achieved her goal of making it into the Portage High School team after playing on the park’s league.
“She and her mom told me if it weren’t for me helping her get ready, she wouldn’t have made the team,” he said. “I wish I could keep hearing stories like that, because that means they’re getting something out of this. They’re achieving their goals.”
Miranda has big plans for the future, hoping to add more soccer seasons into the year and begin taking the teams to different places to compete.
“I’ve been in this area for seven years now,” Miranda said. “The fact that I’m working for the city and doing soccer for the city, it’s a perfect opportunity to leave my stamp here. Eventually, I’d love to have a travel team here.”