J.R. Fernandes loves the game so much, he has a soccer field in his front yard. Photo credit: Anne Rogers
We kicked off this series by spotlighting Menace Academy director of coaching Tomas Boltnar. Let's give J.R. Fernandes a turn, with plans to share the stories of the academy's coaches in the months to come.
Stroll through Francisco “J.R” Fernandes’ neighborhood in rural West Des Moines, and it is easy to spot the Menace Academy coach’s house.
It’s the one with two goals, a yard full of people and a whole lot of fun going on.
Fernandes, who coaches the 11U and 14U boys, can be found either playing soccer or foot-volley on the small-sided field he put together, or at the grill, cooking.
The fun will go late into the night – or early mornings. Cars line the driveway, their headlights lighting up the field.
“We’ll have fun games there with the team, or my friends will come over,” Fernandes said. “It’s just a fun atmosphere. You have to bring everyone together to build that family and get to know each other.”
For the Morris Elementary physical education teacher, relationships are a big part of what he does, either in the gym or on the soccer field.
Impacting Iowa youth soccer
Fernandes’ life revolves around soccer and family, and it has been since he was a child attending professional soccer games in Brazil with his grandfather.
“I grew up with a soccer ball in my hand,” Fernandes said. “In Brazil, that’s what you do. There’s always a soccer game going on, in every backyard, in every street.”
He played second-division professional soccer in Brazil and professional futsal teams until he got the opportunity to come to the United States.
In 1989, he moved to Boston to help one of his trainers coach camps. He came to Des Moines in 1991 for more camps and has stayed ever since.
It was then that Fernandes began to make his mark on Iowa youth soccer.
He left Iowa United (what is now Menace Academy) to start the Vision Soccer Academy program. When Iowa United became the Menace Academy, Fernandes came back for a few years before leaving to begin the Altoona competitive soccer program, where he stayed for 10 years.
Last year, he made the move back to Menace Academy and led his 13U boys to the 2017 Iowa State Cup Championship and a berth into the U.S. Youth Soccer Region II Tournament.
“This team is all part of my family,” Fernandes said. “They always have a smile on their face because they get to play the game. For any coach that has a group like that, it really inspires you to dedicate more to that group because man, they deserve it.”
‘I work with a smile on my face’
Not only does Fernandes influence the soccer world, but he makes a difference at Morris Elementary, too.
He hosts an after-school soccer clinic for elementary students to have the opportunity to learn more about the game.
The chance to influence students to be active and have fun is why Fernandes teaches. It’s not solely about soccer – although he jumps at the chance to kick the ball around with a student.
“I believe that I can inspire kids to stay fit and healthy, and that starts when you’re really young,” Fernandes said. “And I just love it. I think it’s priceless. I work with a smile on my face, and that’s what it’s all about.
“Plus, I think I’m a cool guy, at least with the little kids – sometimes. I want to be someone they look up to.”
A family atmosphere
Fernandes treats his players and students like he treats his two children – Max and Eddy are also both soccer players – because everyone is family to him.
And he uses soccer to teach life lessons to his one, big family.
“I tell my kids, even if you don’t like the call, or the other guy is trash talking, you can’t just get all angry, or else you’ll be out of the game,” Fernandes said. “You have to deal with the situation, and I think life is that way a lot of times as well. The game teaches those lessons – to be patient, be kind, be respectful and more.”
Another lesson Fernades instills in his family is compassion. The diversity that Menace Academy has allows many people of various backgrounds to work together for a common goal.
For Fernandes, that’s what it’s all about.
“We bring all types of kids to our program and allows them to play this beautiful game,” he said. “This game is the people’s game. You don’t need to be super tall or strong or a certain color or a certain gender or have a certain amount of money. Get a ball and some grass, and anybody can play this game. The Menace gives everyone the opportunity to do that.”
Celebrating each other is not only for Fernandes’ players, or his students. He strives to bring the parents of the children together as well, to help build trust, respect and support. You never know when someone is going to need your help, or when you’re going to need someone else’s help, Fernandes said.
He wants his entire team – players, coaches and parents – to be there when a hand is needed.
Hence, the soccer field in his front yard.
“When you bring people together, everyone talks and gets to know each other, and you start to respect what’s behind that family,” Fernandes said. “What better way to bring people together than the game itself?”
Francisco "J.R." Fernandes
Born: Nov. 18, 1964 in San Paulo, Brazil
Wife: Karri Renard Fernandes
Children: Maximino (Max) and Edsel (Eddy)
Education: Faculdad de Physical Education de Jundiai
This story by Anne Rogers was posted on Thursday, July 27, 2017.