Longtime Southern California Soccer Leader Takes The Helm
Everyone knows that Cal South is a leader in youth soccer player development — and that Cal South teams have won numerous national tournaments – 64 US Youth Soccer National Championships in fact. Few people realize how large an organization Cal South is or how much it accomplishes for its over 200,000 members. Providing recreational and competitive opportunities for players of all ages, genders and skill levels from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, is a huge undertaking and Cal South does a great job. With a goal of one million players, coaches, referees and administrators by 2027 — and always looking to improve — Cal South has new leadership. Cal South’s new Chief Operating Officer is Johnnie Garza, a longtime leader of soccer in Southern California with more than 25 years of critical involvement, including serving a term as Cal South Board President from 2010-2013.
Talking for the first time about what it is like being back at Cal South and now in the driver’s seat, SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Garza at the kick off for State Cup at the new So Cal Sports Complex in Oceanside, CA.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does it feel to be the leader of the largest state association in Soccer?
Johnnie Garza: It feels pretty good. For us, the expectations are higher and I think that is appropriate.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is it like to be back in California?
Johnnie Garza: California is home. I have often said that you can take the boy out of California, but you can’t take California out of the boy. For me, this is home. More than that. I always knew I would come back home. But to be able to return to Southern California and to participate and be involved in something I have a deep passion for and be able to give back and to contribute — it is fantastic.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is it like to go from being President of Cal South a few years ago to being in the driver’s seat as COO?
Johnnie Garza: I’m still learning what being COO is like… I hope I can contribute to the broader experience of Cal South by having served as President and Vice President of Cal South in the past.
I’ve been involved in almost every aspect of the Cal South program and been on the board for seven years. I’ve watched our association grow over the last twenty-five years and now, to be able to understand were we’ve come from and begin to lay a road map for what the future should look like, it is very meaningful.
Diane Scavuzzo: Does all that experience give you a clear idea as to what you want to accomplish?
Johnnie Garza: I think it does. It helps me understand the dynamic needs of our membership. But even beyond that, our society and the world has changed. It’s highly social and well networked now. The game of soccer hasn’t changed, and the game is the anchor where we can network people together.
What I hope to accomplish as COO is to continue the legacy that is Cal South and see that flourish. To be able to see thousands of kids playing soccer at this venue and know that we have facilitated this — makes me proud. And, this is just one venue of many.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of the So Cal Sports Complex?
Johnnie Garza: I think the facility is gorgeous; the scenery and setting all aligns well with what we are trying to do with the Cal South State and National Cup competition. We are trying to create a very positive Cal South experience and this facility helps us do just that.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you describe the Cal South experience
Johnnie Garza: For me and many of our members, it’s a long session of competition and league play plus soccer tournaments; from the beginning of prepping for the season and afterwards. The State Cup and National Cup competitions are the accumulation of a long soccer season and we want our Cal South soccer families, regardless of their individual teams’ outcome at the competition, to experience these events in a positive way — so they’ll look forward to coming back.
We want to inspire our players to hone their skills and be challenged for next year’s State and National Cup. We want our coaches and teams to see these competitions as a place where their players are able to test their own skills against some of the very best players in Southern California. After all, Cal South has many of the best teams in the nation and our cups are highly competitive.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you like best about soccer?
Johnnie Garza: I like how soccer builds a community and brings people together. The game itself is unchanged after hundreds of years but what it’s done is draw people of all backgrounds and ethnicities together. Soccer is a great equalizer; when you’re on the field in competition, these differences fade away.
For us to be able to begin to impart community and family values to children, and to help guide them through the challenges that come with the highs and lows of competition — this is important.
Youth soccer is a thriving community. Every time I am at a venue, I meet someone new; and they become a new friend or colleague.
Cal South represents over 300 Affiliate Member Leagues and Clubs comprising our membership of more than 204,000 registered players, coaches, referees and league administrators. The organization, with a service area that extends from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, provides rewarding recreational and competitive opportunities for players of all ages, genders and skill levels.
Cal South represents:
- 300+ Affiliate Member Leagues and Clubs across Southern California
- 12,000+ Youth and Adult Soccer Teams
- 115,000 Active Family Households
- 170,000 Youth and Adult Soccer Players
- 34,000 Coaches, Referees, Volunteers and Administrators