The Pitch winners JC Sports sow rewards back into their community

When they wanted their young sons to play sports but struggled to find the right options locally, Jennifer and Cesar Coronel had an idea—start their own center.

JC Sports was born, and last month the indoor facility in Humble was the winner of The Pitch, a contest for Houston-area small businesses launched by the BBVA Compass Bright Futures platform and the Dynamo.

Encouraged to enter by a client, JC submitted a company description and a business plan, then a short video once the 120 entries were whittled down to the final four. After coming out on top in the fan vote they won prizes including $10,000, a consultation with a member of the Dynamo ownership group and a BBVA Compass executive and four 2017 Dynamo season tickets.

The Coronels plan to use the money to buy equipment for five schools. “Our whole idea is giving back to our community,” Jennifer said. “If we sow seeds into our community our community will sow seeds back into us.”

It’s a philosophy that resonates with Mark Montgomery, BBVA Compass Houston CEO. “Giving small business owners and startups the capital and the opportunity to learn about achieving entrepreneurial success is part of who we are as a principled bank,” he said. “Our mission is to provide a bright future to our communities. Small businesses and entrepreneurship are essential parts of those communities.”

Jennifer worked for a non-profit organization and Cesar has a background in finance. Both have participated in outreach efforts through their church. Their experience and skill-sets helped convince them to look into setting up JC Sports.

At first, Jennifer said, the idea seemed “super crazy—but not crazy enough to not explore. I have a lot of experience with kids, he has a lot of experience on the business side, so God just kind of orchestrated everything to this point.”

So the Coronels set about transforming what seems from the outside like a pair of ordinary-looking warehouses into colorful places where kids aged 2-12 can play soccer, baseball, football and basketball: developing their talents and confidence and, most importantly, having fun.

JC opened in 2014, with 67 kids. Now they serve 250 a week, a figure that rises to 500 when seasonal leagues are included, have three full-time and seven part-time coaches.

Conscious that many kids who play sports give up by their teenage years because they no longer enjoy it, Cesar aims to provide an appealing environment with high-quality coaching where youngsters can learn techniques in a structured fashion but also develop their self-expression.

“I want the child to say—‘mommy, I want to go back’,” Cesar said. That means making a good first impression, keeping the kids engaged and encouraging them to use their initiative. His belief in the importance of creativity stems from his upbringing in a country famous for producing flair players: Argentina. “You play for hours and you just need a soccer ball,” he said. “I have that passion for soccer.”

During a 45-minute session on a recent morning, six young kids dribbled balls across the green turf, aiming to kick another ball off a cone from a short distance. This being around the time of Halloween, there was a novelty event: one of the coaches dressing up as a dinosaur and trying to tackle the players, his tail bouncing up and down on the ground as he chased after them.

At one end of the field a walled hexagonal area with tiny goals, dubbed a “soccer cage”, is set up for one-on-one contests that encourage close control and decision-making. At the other, action images of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard and Barcelona star Lionel Messi decorate the walls.

Three-year-old Colton has been coming every week since June. “This is his favorite thing to do,” said his mom, Diedra. “He’s gotten to be a little more coordinated … they’re very nice, very clean and organized.”

Now the Coronels are looking to expand, boosted by their success in The Pitch. Since the contest, they said, plenty of people have told them: “we voted for you!”—adding to a sense of connection with the community that they hope will continue to deepen.