UNC prof's documentary series chronicles high school team

Jun. 30, 2014 @ 04:39 PM

Darwin Ramirez kicks a soccer ball with bullet-like speed, close to the ground. This kick makes it past goalie Daniel Estrada, but Estrada otherwise has a good record of defending against these practice kicks. Ramirez, Estrada and Martin Carrillo, all recent members of Siler City’s Jordan-Matthews High School Jets soccer team, were filming some promotional segments at Cedar Falls Park last week for “Los Jets,” a new documentary series about the team.

The three players and recent graduates also were teaching Jessica York of the Dish Network, which was filming the promos, a few soccer basics. “I’ll show you how to kick a ball,” said Paul Cuadros, their coach, to York. Her first kick went a bit shy of the goal, but her second one was a success. “You’ll get it. You’ll get it,” Cuadros told her.
“Los Jets” premieres on the NUVO TV network July 16. Mark Landsman, director of the series, was inspired by Cuadros’ 2006 book “A Home on the Field: How One Championship Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small-Town America.” In 1999 Cuadros, a writer and now a journalism professor at UNC, received a fellowship to report on Latino communities in the South. When he moved to Chatham County, he began coaching soccer. When he learned that the high school in Siler City did not have a soccer team, he started one, and has been coaching the Jets for 13 years. Like “A Home on the Field,” “Los Jets” is about more than sports. It’s about the lives of immigrants, how they try to adjust to their new communities, their hopes and dreams.
“Los Jets” follows Cuadros and the team through the fall 2013 season into the state playoffs. The series focuses on the lives of five of the student-athletes – Ramirez, Estrada and Carrillo and two other students, Cuadros said. Viewers will see the students on the field, in school and in their homes. Often, they deal with “feelings of alienation, trying to integrate into our society,” he said. 
Cuadros’ family came to the United States from Peru in 1960. His father came first, worked for a while, then brought his mom and two brothers to this country. Cuadros was born after that reunion. “I’m sort of like the American kid in my family,” he said. “That’s some of what you will see in the show, some of the families have mixed status.”
Estrada and Carrillo were both born in Chapel Hill. Ramirez was born in Mexico and came to this country when his family immigrated. Estrada said his parents were once involved in gang activity on the West Coast, but turned their lives around, going from “doing bad to doing good. With God on our side, everything is in his hands,” he said.
They and their teammates are the younger brothers of the soccer players who won the championship chronicled in “A Home on the Field,” and are like the second generation, Cuadros said. Ramirez started practicing soccer after he heard about the 2004 state championship victory from his older cousin, who was on that team. “I just wanted to be part of the legacy that started at Jordan-Matthews High School,” he said. Many graduates who played soccer come back to help the younger players, Ramirez said. His cousin now has a child, and Ramirez has a 3-year-old nephew. “I plan to come forward when they are in high school,” he said.
“Los Jets” is co-executive produced by actress and singer Jennifer Lopez (who also is chief creative officer of NUVO TV) and Lynda Lopez. NUVO offers entertainment, documentaries and other programming in English that tries to reflect “the spirit, energy and richness of modern Latino culture,” according to its mission statement.
“You’re going to see a lot of America in this show, and some real heart,” Cuadros said. He plans to keep coaching. He praises the high school and the community for their support of the team. “Kids need stuff to do that inspires them, and keeps them on track,” he said. 

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“Los Jets” will make its season premiere July 16 at 10 p.m. on the NUVO TV network. For details, visit www.mynuvotv.com.