Sports have the uncanny ability to lift the hearts of nations, even in times of civilian strife. What is even more transcending than the sports themselves are the unsung hero athletes who humbly move in stealth like fashion across continents sharing their cultural camaraderie; while at the same time sharing their unique sports’ knowledge and athletic skills to engage children, youth and adults alike helping to inspire communities for a better tomorrow.
On February 13th, 2014 an unexpected email arrived in my inbox from Scott Schoettgen of California informing me that a 49ers Backup QB was coming to Costa Rica in two weeks as they we’re working with Glasswing International, a non-profit that does work all through Central America.
The Kickoff to a Great Football Relationship – Email Snippets from 2014
Scott Schoettgen – On February 26th, we have a group of 5 football guys from the states coming down to Central America to coach some youth sports clinics in the schools, and renovate a school in El Salvador. In that group there are a couple guys who have played in the NFL, including McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who is the backup QB for the San Francisco 49ers.
Ms Elle – As well do you have the contacts of the El Salvador American Football Presidents?… The IFAF league hosted the 1st Central American Bowl last September… The President of the IFAF league is El Salvadorian by birth but lived I believe most his life in San Diego! I believe you should connect with him. I can forward his/their contact info if you are interested.
After the exchange of a few additional emails, Schoettgen and McLeod Bethel-Thompson were connected with Steve Agreda, Founder and Commissioner of the Salvadorian Association of American Intramural Football (SAAIF).
Five years ago, McLeod established the non-profit Community Action Through Sports and Education (CASEProject) with five other executive team members; Cassady Bethel-Thompson, Scott Schoettgen, Burl Toler III, Tony Krikorian and Cameron Toler.
We are athletes, educators, and community collaborators who believe empowered youth can bring positive change to their communities and environments. We foster this change through sports, education, and community enrichment projects.
McLeod was asked what motivated him to pursue El Salvador?
I went to El Salvador as a child a couple of times to visit family. Always loved the country and the people. When I was going to Costa Rica to visit Scott (Schoettgen) I knew I had to visit El Salvador as well. My auntie Mercedes Ilort connected me with Celina de Sola the founder of Glasswing International and that is where we did our first camp in El Salvador.
CASEProject recognizes while there are many countries and communities in need of support, CASEProject has specifically chosen El Salvador as its primary target area. El Salvador has fallen victim to some of the world’s highest levels of poverty. Like many regions plagued by lack of resources, gangs and violence flourish while educational systems suffer. The children of El Salvador are continually exposed to these pressures with minimal sustainable support. Without alternatives to gangs and with limited access to adequate resources, youth there have little choice but to repeat cycles of violence and poverty. CASEProject was created to address these issues – providing hope, training, and support to at-risk Salvadoreno youth and their communities – through the use of sports and education.
McLeod commented on his experience collaborating with SAAIF:
Steve (Agreda) and SAAIF have been amazing and we continue to work with them every year. It has been hard to get down there because of the CFL season but hopefully we can make it again this year.
Agreda recollects about the influence McLeod has had on SAAIF:
His story, is one that people can resonate with here in El Salvador, being that he is constantly looking for an opportunity to succeed as an athlete whereby people here are looking for opportunities to succeed in life… both presenting constant obstacles.
McLeod first came out to El Salvador in 2014… as an initial impact it opened our people’s eyes, just knowing that someone with Salvadorian blood was currently in pursuit of an NFL dream.
McLeod has since come back on a yearly basis to participate in our annual Training Camps where he and CASEProject volunteers come out and put on clinics to help better athletic performance. He has hugely impacted our national level QBs with his tips and work development and we continue to collaborate with one another via email or WhatsApp messaging.
McLeod was asked, what is next for CASEProject?
As far as the next project for CASEProject we are a little bit unsure. We are in a bit of a transition stage. But we hope to return to El Salvador and connect with Steve (Agreda) and SAAIF as soon as possible.
McLeod and the Toronto Argonauts:
The Toronto Argonauts are a great organization with an amazing history. Being a part of last years’ Grey Cup championship was an amazing experience! I have never been on a professional team with a better group of men then the Argos. Top to bottom the team is made up of great men with good hearts.
What a surprise it was for me to learn from reading a CFL article published on AFI in June just days before returning for a visit to my native country, Canada, after a 5.5-year absence that McLeod is currently a quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts (my CFL team since my teens!). Over 4-years since I last saw McLeod and his crew giving a football drills and skills camp to youth in San Jose, Costa Rica. Of course, I didn’t miss the opportunity to take in a home game on July 7th with the added bonus the Argos won!
CASEProject is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization working to inspire and empower youth to bring positive change to their communities and environments.
Past projects can be viewed here.
CASEProject Contact Information
Salvadorian Association of American Intramural Football (SAAIF)
SAAIF was founded in late 2010, with the first team San Salvador Caimanes taking the field in 2011. Since then SAAIF has grown to 8 male Contact teams, 10 female Flag teams, an annual coed Flag tournament that has seen up to 32 teams participating (15 person rosters). SAAIF currently has the Adult Men’s Selection “BIG BLUE” and the Women’s National Team “Liberty Hawks”. The men’s season is from June-November with the National championship “Nation’s Bowl” taking place in December.
SAAIF Contact Information
Phone: + (503) 7617-0227