During a visit from the Chinese National Team, players from Coach Oâ€™s three SDSC teams had the opportunity to practice and train with professional athletes. (photo courtesy of Tami Swenson)
Community rallies to help Coach O
A beloved youth soccer coach and friend to many in Scripps Ranch has been diagnosed with a severe and aggressive form of lung cancer, leaving former players and their families shocked and heartbroken.
Affectionately known by her players as ‘Coach O,’ Ouying Zhang is a two-time Olympian and was a star player for the Chinese National Team in three successive Women’s World Cups. According to a GoFundMe page set up in the coach’s name, “since coming to the United States in 2006, she has been a devoted coach and mentor in assisting kids and young adults at Poway High School, Mesa College, San Diego Futbol Academy, and beginning in 2010 at San Diego Soccer Club [SDSC].”
While coaching girls soccer with SDSC she met and made an impact on families from Scripps Ranch.
“Coach O is definitely special. She really loves all of her players,” explained Mia Arredondo, a 14-year-old Scripps Ranch resident who played on Coach O’s SDSC teams for two years. “She wants the best soccer experience she can give to them. That’s what made her stand out. She really cared about all of us.”
Former teammate Marissa McSweeney echoed this sentiment.
“She doesn’t think about herself. She thinks about other people,” McSweeney said. “She cares about everybody and makes you feel like you matter.”
In addition to the poignant emotional impact Coach O has had on her players, she certainly has not fallen short in helping them to excel in their sport.
“She had a major impact on me. She made me a better person overall and a better soccer player,” said Emma Hass, who played for Coach O for two years and now plays on the junior varsity soccer team at Scripps Ranch High School.
Her mother, Lecia Hass, agreed, saying, “in the last couple of years, Emma has grown by leaps and bounds through Coach O’s ‘tough love.’ She pushed them, but not over the edge. She made it fun. They learned a lot from her.”
While Coach O maintained focus on the team overall, her players agree that she took the time to understand each player’s method of learning and worked to coach them in an individualized fashion.
“She paid attention to how we could change as a player and she helped us grow together,” said Tory Swenson, who also played on the coach’s team for two years.
Coach O was on an annual trip to China in April when she fell ill and complained of chest pain. She was taken to a local hospital where a series of tests revealed evidence of cancer in her lungs. Players and their families were stunned when they learned the news of their coach’s diagnosis.
“The last time we had seen Coach O, she was perfectly fine,” said Christina Arredondo, mother of Mia Arredondo. “She was so strong and fit. We never imagined that someone so fit and healthy could be hit with something like this. We were in total and complete shock.”
Parents of current and former players immediately mobilized a “call to action” through a series of emails aimed at brainstorming ways they could provide support. The first email in the thread, which was originated by Ben Lee, father of two daughters who have played on Coach O’s teams, read in part, “Like us, I’m sure everyone’s plate is already overflowing with life’s and work’s activities and responsibilities. But during these very, very tough times, I implore you to think of all the wonderful memories that Coach O has given to us and our daughters, and to reach deep into your energy and time reserves to help in these efforts.”
Organization leadership from SDSC promptly set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money to assist her family – husband Edde and two children, ages 7 and 3 – with mounting medical bills. Within the first 24 hours of the page going live, it had surpassed its initial fundraising goal of $50,000. The goal was then extended to $100,000, which was exceeded within a week. By May 12, a new goal of $200,000 had been set, and momentum for the fundraising campaign remained strong.
Coach O has returned to San Diego and is receiving treatment at a local hospital. Lee explained that during a recent visit with the coach, when he shared news of the community’s tremendous response, she broke in to tears, completely overwhelmed by the love and support.
“I cannot believe everyone is doing this,” she said. “I’m just a soccer coach.”
Convinced that Coach O is more than “just a coach,” Christina Arredondo explained, “when you have a good coach or a good teacher, it makes all the difference in the life of a child. Coaches and teachers help to mold our kids, and Coach O is one of the good ones.”
Additional fundraising events are scheduled in the weeks ahead and can be found on the SDSC Facebook page. The GoFundMe campaign can be found by visiting gofundme.com/coach-o.