2019-09-22 – I just came back from taking my dog Rebe for a walk in the park across the street. Sunday mornings this time of year, the park is alive with preparation for the day’s soccer games. I love seeing that. When we first moved into the neighborhood, there was none of that.
Well, there was a little.
But one of the park neighbors didn’t like it. It was a young men’s Mexican league. He said they took up all the parking. He said they peed in the lawns. He said they were doing drugs. He said they were going to bring gangs into the park from a park a couple miles away.
I had just joined the park advisor council. The guy wanted us to put up a hedge in the middle of the soccer field so they couldn’t play. And, in the middle of the night he destroyed their soccer goals.
The council was not sympathetic.
The fact was, however, that the park was underutilized. And maybe people were afraid to come. It’s large for a city park with multiple baseball diamonds, lots of space for football and fútbol, tennis courts, and a playground. And it has lots of trees.
What we needed was an attraction to bring people in, not a hedge to drive them away.
My boys at the time were five and three. I had recently completed assistant coaching a kids soccer team in the nearby suburb with a friend from my son’s preschool. The friend knew soccer. He had been semi-pro in Argentina before he went to med school. I knew nothing. But another friend had encouraged me saying, “you know more than a four year old!”
So I suggested to the park council that we start a kids soccer league. And so, with very little soccer knowledge between the members of the council (I was the pro after half a year of coaching four-year-olds), we approached neighboring leagues for help in getting a league going in our park—and we ended up as an affiliated region of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).
In deference to my deep soccer experience, I was made the first Head Coach. (You cannot even imagine how funny that was at the time.) We sent out flyers to the neighboring schools and held sign-up events. There’s a minimum number of kids you need to even be able to have games. And there’s a minimum number of adults needed to serve as coaches and referees and as team parents.
And we hit the number. So after a summer of trainings (which we piggybacked from the neighboring leagues) and building goals and getting permits and painting lines on the field, 22 years ago this month, we started. And the league grew.
The neighbor who wanted to drive out the Mexican adults who were playing soccer in the park never let us know how he felt about parking after we started bringing 1,000 more people into the park. But the rest of the neighborhood let us know how they felt by starting to use the park, not just for soccer—for baseball, for football, for tennis, for picnics, for dog walking, for skateboarding.
Our new league had Mexican kids, and Jamaican kids, Orthodox Jewish kids (we picked Sunday as our game day so they could join) and Muslim kids and Catholic kids. Black, white, and brown.-
My older son was in it from the start, the younger son joined when he was old enough (though he came to practices and kicked the ball with the older kids). But they eventually became too old. The younger one moved on to travel teams, his high school team, and eventually his college team.
We still live across from the park. We walked our dogs there daily back then. We still do. On game-day Sundays, I like to go over there to check out the action. For the first few years, I still knew some of the officials, but that’s not true anymore.
But I recognize the kids. Not individual kids. But I recognize the little ones who run and kick the ball. And the older kids who are starting to develop the skills of the game. And I recognize the parents to come and fuss over the kids and cheer on the sidelines.
And later in the day, the Mexican adult league still plays in the park. And other leagues have come into the park. I met a guy this morning who coaches in a club league that uses the park. He said his players were mostly Russian and Romanian. But I saw some of the players and their parents. He has Mexicans on his roster and African Americans.
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