Get ready for the Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy soccer camp July 15-19 and July  22-26  2019!

Get ready for the Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy soccer camp July 15-19 and July 22-26 2019!

Aztecas afterschool tutoring opportunities in 2019! Athletes headed to graduate from high school and college ready!

Aztecas afterschool tutoring opportunities in 2019! Athletes headed to graduate from high school and college ready!

Aztecas giving back to the community! 150 bag lunches!


Congratulations to one of our own players, Angel Luis Hernandez! #Aztecas! Athletes of the Week February 2019!


June 1st, 2016 Aztecas selected by 100 Women Who Care for grant

The Aztecas' were selected by the Santa Cruz chapter of 100 Women Who Care for their quarterly grant program. Four times a year a local non-profit is selected to receive up to $10,000 from this amazing organization.  Based in and made up of community members from Santa Cruz County, they give their charitable dollars to organizations working within the county.  Thank you to this wonderful group of women for their generous gift.


April 24, 2016 Lauded sports program for at-risk youth takes down the law

Article by Ryan Masters, Santa Cruz Sentinel Photo Credit Kevin Johnson, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Just eyeballing the two teams warming up on the Soccer Central Indoor Sports field in Ramsay Park on Sunday afternoon, you might have been inclined to favor the bigger, older guys in the navy blue jerseys over the younger guys in the purple jerseys.

That would have been a mistake. For the fifth consectutive year, the Azteca Youth Soccer Academy dispatched both the Watsonville Police Department and the Santa Cruz County Probation Department in the annual fundraiser. However, to give the futbol cops their due, the scores were far less lopsided than past years: the first match ended 5-3; the second 4-3.

In its eleventh year of existence, the Azteca team and its coach, Santa Cruz County probation officer Gina Castañeda, are the stuff of legends. Both were famously profiled in the critically acclaimed 2011 ESPN film “The Save.”

Castañeda’s tale of redemption on the soccer pitch is as much about saving teenagers from the miseries of gang life as it as about coming to grips with her own history of growing up in a violent neighborhood and even enduring periods of homelessness with her mother.

Her players frequently cross Norteño and Sureño gang lines, and assimilating the two on one team isn’t easy. Yet the real threat frequently comes from without, not within. To keep a low profile, the team sticks to indoor soccer.

“One of our kids was assaulted right outside the back doors of this facility,” Castaneda said.

To avoid further problems, the red and blue gang colors were banned and the purple Azteca jersey — a combination of the two colors — was born. Castañeda said the uniforms had a profound effect.

“A lot of this is about seeing yourself in a different way,” Castañeda said. “Sometimes that’s enough.”

The law enforcement who volunteer their time to the Aztecas program and play in the annual fundraiser also learn to see the probationers in a different way.

Fernando Giraldo is the probation chief of Santa Cruz County and has been a probation officer with the department since 1995. He calls Aztecas the premiere positive youth program in the county.

“Soccer is a big part of this, obviously, but it’s also about teaching these kids how to give back to the community — to be engaged and volunteer,” Giraldo said. “A lot of them have been able to return to mainstream schools and some even make it to college. This program has saved lives.”

Raul Ramirez, 20, has played on the Aztecas for five years. He said the program has made him a better soccer player, but changed him in other ways as well.

“It’s kept me off the streets,” he said.

Cpl. Fernando Lopez sits on the board of directors of the program and usually plays in the fundraiser game but is nursing a bad back this year. He admitted the Aztecas usually beat the officers fairly handily.

“They’re young and fast and tireless and well coached,” he said. “We’re just hoping to get all our officers off the field uninjured.”

The Aztecas program needs to raise $13,000 to send 60 Pajaro Valley-area kids to soccer camps this summer. For information on how you can help, visit

April 24, 2016 Aztecas vs. Law Enforcement a success

From KSBW  Photo credit KSBW

"Police officers squared off against children on the soccer field Sunday.

The Aztecas soccer team takes at-risk youth off the streets and on Sunday they challenged the law enforcement officers to play to raise money for summer camp.

"Sometimes when the teens that are at risk are dealing with officers it's not a really good interaction," said Santa Cruz police Officer Saul Rodriguez. "Today we take our uniforms off and we are just soccer players."

Rodriguez volunteers as a mentor for the Aztecas soccer team. He works with kids like Yoni Hernandez, who got swept up in the gang life when he was younger and was in danger of failing school.

"It's been a good experience because it not only teaches me how to be a better player but I've been improving my school (work) and thanks to Aztecas, I got scholarships to pay my college," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said a probation officer had him sign up for the team five years ago and it changed his life. One year away from graduating from CSUMB, he is returning the favor.

"Most of the players, I see them in the streets and I talk to them. They are kind of part of the family," Hernandez said.

He is one of many teenagers who serves as a mentor for younger kids at the Aztecas' summer camp launched last year.

"We teach them not to do gangs, not get involved into drugs, alcohol or anything, just to focus on soccer and school," Cesar Padilla said.

On Sunday, their parents cheered them on with pride.

"My son has learned discipline and respect," said Carla Reza. "They taught him to look people in the eyes when he speaks to them."

"I'm so happy," said Martha Leyva. "My son plays really well and I hope he will keep going and playing better and better. Maybe someone will discover him and good things will happen to him."

Sunday's match raised $12,000 for the Aztecas' summer camp.

This year there will be two camps in July because of the high demand last year."


April 12, 2016 Aztecas honored as the Program partner of the Year by the United way of Santa Cruz County

"There is power in finding the “gem” that can bring people together, while also harnessing that power to create a healthy, thriving community for all. With Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy, they are building our community “one goal at a time”. Aztecas uses soccer to reclaim the lives of at-risk Latino youth who struggle with gangs, violence and poverty throughout Santa Cruz County and Pajaro Valley. Through the unifying experience of soccer and support of peer and adult mentors, Aztecas develops a healthy lifestyle that inspires self-confidence, team building, conflict resolution, and leadership skills. Led by community organizer and probation officer Gina Castañeda, Aztecas serves nearly 50 male youth (ages 13 – 20) on probation for gang/violent offenses. Gina’s determination to help youth see a brighter, healthier future makes Aztecas one of the fastest-growing youth programs in our county. The Aztecas story was featured on ESPN and Gina has traveled near and far to offer best practices and hope to other communities. United Way is honored to partner with Aztecas to develop youth leaders who will change lives and the world. Congratulations Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy – United Way Partner Organization of the Year."

March 12, 2016 Aztecas give back

On Saturday 3/12, Aztecas players, mentors and coaches worked with 100 other community volunteersto assemble ten THOUSAND life-saving food packets for starving families, to be distributed wherever needed most around the world. The 'Stop Hunger Now!' event, supported by Freedom Lions, was completed in record time at the Watsonville Senior Center.Thanks to all for your hard work !


March 11, 2016  Aztecas win!!!!



Friday March 11th, the Aztecas won the Soccer Central 2016 Mens Division 2A. The Aztecas played against Los Vampiros and won, the final score was 6-5.  



February 10, 2016 Reportaje especial: Éxito Juvenil: Aztecas




THANK YOU to the 100+ community members who attended our first-ever fall event.  Our many supporters mingled with Aztecas players, mentors, coaches and advisory board members while enjoying great local food and beverages, live music and the chance to win wonderful auction and raffle items

and MANY THANKS to our event donors who contributed food, beverages, music, Aztecas sponsorships, logistic support, and wonderful auction and raffle items::

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Food and Beverages:

Wargin Winery, Guarino Family Vineyards, Corralitos Brewery, Driscolls Berries, Castaneda Ceviche, Olita's Cantina and Grille,  Pacific Cookie Company, SweetJustice is My Dream Cupcakes, Will Brokaw Avocados, Ruvalcaba Nursery

Aztecas Ticket Sponsorships:

Priscilla & Jason Tracy, Steven Capasso, Betsy Clark, Susan Smith, Yolanda Perez-Logan, RAM Trucking, Freedom Lions, CalGiant

Auction and Raffle Items:

Aldo's, Fernando Giraldo, Annie Glass, Bella Dawna Esthetic Artistry & Care, Bicycle Trip, Blank Verse Jewelry, Cabrillo Farmers Market, CASA, Chardonnay Charters, Crazy Horse Golf Course, DeLaveaga Golf Course, Dream Inn, Olita's Cantina & Grille, Alfaro Winery, Four Sisters Inns,  Freedom Lions, Institut' DERMed Clinical Skin Care, Jeri Ross, Jordan Thorpe, Karen Hardink, Karen Sullivan, Kayak Connection, Sea Harvest Restaurant, Krista Brassfield, Monterey Bay Photos, Mr. California,  Niroga Institute,  Nourish, Olive Connection, Alfaro'sVineyards & Winery, Om Gallery, Paul Zaretsky Photography, Photography by Elyse, Pleasure Point Pilates, San Jose Sharks, Sara Roe, Seascape Golf Course, Soquel Vineyards, Yolanda Perez-Logan, New School, Martinelli’s, Lemongrass, Divini Tree,  Mystery Spot, Brit Charlebois & Alan Crarer,  Shadowbrook  Restaurant

Aztecas Event Volunteers: 

Jeri Ross, Yolanda Perez-Logan, Gina Castañeda, Sara Anderson, Michael Moore, Julia Feldman, Susan Paradise, Hillel Rom, Jo Guerrero, Tomi Burgess, Jose Torres, Terry Medina, Sol Martinez, Damon McGuire, and Aztecas Players, Mentors and Coaches


July 4, 2015: Gina Castaneda chosen Grand Marshall for Watsonville 4th of July Parade

July 6-10, 2015: Aztecas 1st Annual Soccer Camp for Pajaro Kids sponsored by Lions Clubs 

August 16, 2015: Aztecas Outdoor Soccer Team Wins Division 2 Final 

August 24, 2015: Gina Castañeda, Community Healer

A probation officer whose life and actions exemplify the late Tony Hill's work and legacy. 

"Now, Castañeda, who will receive the sixth annual Tony Hill Award during this year's 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation in downtown Santa Cruz, is using sports to guide troubled youths away from the streets". - Dan White

Click here to continue reading

Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy Coverage on 1080 AM KSCO Radio

The Save

The rise of the aztecas 1-4

Amanda Micheli director of The Save - a HERoic series for ESPN- speaks candidly about Gina Castaneda

Aztecas soccer coach reiterates, "This is not just a soccer team." at TEDx Santa Cruz

Using Soccer to Save Kids

The Aztecas program is an incredible program that really is a gang-intervention program that’s working with youth to show them there’s something outside of gangs.
— Jennifer Squires

Aztecas Soccer puts rivalry gang members on the same team

"Everybody thinks it's just soccer. It's not just soccer." - Castaneda