Meet Joe Santos, District IV Commissioner with a true sense of love and devotion for the game of soccer. Well, there’s one more thing that should be added - he’s loaded with a sense of humor that offers rounds of belly-jiggling laughs.
"I’m all about making people smile and laugh," he says candidly.
It’s not that Joe tries to be funny; he’s just sincere … with a twist. When asked what one of his former players would say about his coaching, he gives a deep laugh and pauses before answering.
"It depends on who you talk to," he responds about his former Girls and Boys team in the Castro Valley Soccer Club. He then gives another infectious laugh.
But to his own credit, he’s being humble. There’s a reason why he was voted District Coach of the Year and State Coach of the Year more than five years ago – he has a genuine passion for his players and it comes across to them.
"If they ever said that having Joe as a coach inspired their love of the game, then I know I must have done something right. I couldn’t ask for more," the former Olympic Development Program player admits.
Finding the genesis of Joe’s passion for soccer wasn’t hard. As a child, he would watch his father play in an adult league on Sundays, quickly becoming enamored by the sport. Unable to play any other sport due to being born blind in one eye, soccer was a natural choice. So when the time came for Joe to get those boots on at the age of six and play in the California Youth Soccer Association, he was ready.
And to no surprise, his passion continued throughout years. Joe played in Cal North until he aged out, dabbled with the game in college, became a referee, and within time, became a board member of the Castro Valley Soccer Club. He was also a recreational and competitive coach for 12 years, having coached both his children until they aged out of the league.
When asked about his dedication to Cal North, his answer is quite simple and direct – "I feel I have a bond and debt to Cal North because it’s where I got my start," he says.
But dig a little deeper, peel off a few more layers, and the core gets exposed. Joe’s father and a few of his friends founded the Southern Alameda County Youth Soccer League decades ago - the very league where Joe started playing.
"My dad, who was friends with the founder of Cal North, Don Greer, said to him one day that it would be wonderful if we could have a league in our area. Dad got together with some friends and created SACYSL," Joe recalls.
"Turns out my kids played in the club that was originally part of the league my dad help start. That’s why I’m still in it. It’s genetic."
The affable board member, who’s always lived within a 10-mile radius of his hometown San Leandro, has some other credits up his sleeve. He had a side gig as a sports writer for America Online as well as other media outlets, covering the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and the San Jose Clash/Earthquakes, as well as worked at the 1994 World Cup in Accreditation. And there’s something else about Joe.
Auditor by day and coach by night, Joe also moonlights as a photographer, having shot photos of the Clash, Earthquakes, Bay Area CyberRays, FC Gold Pride and US National Teams. He’s had a photo make the cover of Soccer America and his images have been published in numerous magazines and websites.
Yet with all these accolades, his focus remains wedded to the sport that brings him a sense of thrill and enjoyment.
"Whether or not we continue to grow the interest in the game (of soccer) here, it will continue to be a wonderful sport," he says. "There’s a reason why it’s the most popular sport in the world. I just hope America finds that out sooner rather than later."