Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars: DANIELLE SLATON
Reaching Goals On And Off the Field Santa Clara soccer star shines in academics, athletics and community service
By Eleanor Lee Yates
SANTA CLARA, Calif.
People around Santa Clara University know Danielle Slaton as a fierce competitor who won a spot on the U.S. Olympic women’s soccer team last year. She is the kind of player who never gives out or lets up. And in the classroom, professors see that same intense focus. Despite all her traveling for soccer games, Slaton maintains a strong A average.
But with so many achievements early in life, Slaton has already learned a valuable lesson that many young stars never do — it’s all about balance.
“I’d go crazy if I didn’t. Balance is the key,” says Slaton, 20. “My friends help me keep my perspective on life.”
Slaton was raised in San Jose, Calif., the oldest daughter of high school teachers. Her father, Frank Slaton, teaches physical education and is a high school track coach. Her mother, Sandy, teaches middle school. Her parents got Slaton started in soccer at the age of 5 — she was the only girl on the team.
Through her school years she stuck with soccer.
“I come from a big track family,” she says. “My father had run track, my sister ran track. But I always loved soccer,” says Slaton. “I liked the creativity of it. It’s not like basketball, which has so many more rules.”
She played in YMCA and city recreation department leagues, eventually ending up on girl teams.
“I had good teachers. They made it fun,” she recalls. The sport became more serious for Slaton at age 12, when she enrolled in an Olympic development program.
High school offers a bevy of extracurricular activities for teen-agers. And because of social activities, many lose interest in a favorite sport or activity. But Slaton had no intention of letting soccer go.
“Soccer has always been fun for me. It takes a lot of time and there are sacrifices. But it’s worth it. There would be a real void if I wasn’t doing it,” she says.
At Presentation High School in San Jose, Slaton was captain of the girls’ soccer team, and helped lead her team to a regional championship. As student body president, she was also a leader off the athletic field.
Slaton’s soccer prowess, academic achievement and school leadership netted her an athletic scholarship to Santa Clara University, which has long boasted a nationally acclaimed soccer program. Santa Clara has been in the Top 10 of women’s Division I soccer for the last 12 years. For the last seven years, the women’s team has made it to the Final Four.
By all accounts, Santa Clara has been a good fit for Slaton. Jerry Smith serves as head coach of the women’s program. Assisting him is his wife, Brandi Chastain, one of the stars of the 2000 World Cup championship U.S. team.
Another assistant coach, Rich Manning, recalls seeing Slaton play years ago when he was a youth soccer coach in Southern California. What struck him then, as now, is Slaton’s competitive nature.
“She will do anything not to lose a game. She’ll always go the extra mile,” he says. But he is just as impressed with Slaton’s strength of character.
She has made time for volunteer work, such as the Eastside Project, tutoring English to Sierra Leone and Vietnamese refugees. She helped out with the Read to Succeed Project, sponsored by the university’s athletic department. Slaton and other volunteers helped disadvantaged children with their homework. She also has participated in Nike “Yes” Clinics, teaching soccer skills to underprivileged children in the community.
At Santa Clara, Slaton is majoring in psychobiology, the study of mental functioning and behavior in relation to other biological processes.
As for soccer, Slaton just gets better and better. She plays left fullback and has been named All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America each year she has been in college. Last year she was among five finalists for the Herman Award, which is the Heisman Trophy award of women’s soccer. She has been All-West Coast Conference for three years.
Her coaches say one of her most notable achievements is being elected captain of the team the past two years, including her sophomore year. Also on the team that year were six seniors, five of whom now play in the new Women’s United Soccer Association.
“Danielle is very poised and mature beyond her years,” says Manning. “She handles all situations in a straightforward way.”
Manning can’t help but chuckle when he thinks of some of the team-building exercises at Santa Clara, the traditional climbing and falling from a certain height, to be caught by teammates.
“Some of the scaredy-cats sprint right to Danielle to be on her team because they know she’ll handle it,” says Manning.
Perhaps her most distinguished honor was being among 28 women asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic women’s soccer team last year in Sydney, Australia. Slaton left school for a couple months to train in San Diego alongside Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and other established players.
“It was hard, but rewarding,” recalls Slaton. “You go through self-doubt but you have to believe you’re going to make it. I always believed I could, though I didn’t know I would. There were days, weeks that I struggled.”
Of the 28 women, 18 were selected for the U.S. Olympic team. Slaton was the only college student to make the team.
“It took me a few days to believe it,” she says.
But reality sank in on the plane to Sydney. The opening ceremonies with the lighting of the torch gave Slaton goose bumps. There was a feeling of camaraderie with the athletes of other nations.
“Even if you didn’t speak their language, a smile says a million things,” says Slaton.
The U.S. women’s soccer team first beat Norway 2-0, then tied a game with China 1-1.
“That game had a lot of tension because of the World Cup final with China. Most of the same players from the World Cup were still there,” she recalls.
The U.S. team went on to beat Nigeria 3-1 and Brazil 1-0. Ultimately they lost to Norway 3-2 in overtime.
Though Slaton didn’t get a chance to play, she learned much from the experience and packed away indelible memories.
After the long flight back to California, Slaton dashed off the plane — jet lag and all — and rushed to Santa Clara’s game against Wake Forest University.
“It was the middle of the first half and we were losing. Danielle went in and things turned around. We won the game,” recalls Manning. Last year Santa Clara advanced to the national quarterfinals, losing in overtime to top seed Notre Dame.
Manning thinks Slaton will be one of the first drafted by the Women’s United Soccer Association.
“I’d like her to get into it. She would be a great role model,” Manning says. “In the soccer community there are not that many African American role models. She’s proud of her heritage. Here’s someone who’s bright and an excellent player. She brings competitiveness, but there’s not a selfish bone in her body.”
Slaton says she would like to eventually pursue a career in psychobiology, but right now her first choice is soccer.
“I would love to play soccer as long as my body is able. And I would love to make another Olympic team,” says Slaton.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com