At certain moments, yesterday’s KNPR show centering around the future of youth soccer and featuring a recently-returned-from-South-Africa Herculez Gomez, had the feel of the sort of conversation that may be referred to years from now.
That was, in part, because you had a rare collection of voices key to the future of soccer locally, which I am convinced is key to channeling positive results for tens of thousands of immigrant children here, especially Hispanic boys, who otherwise unfortunately wind up on many of our most worrying lists as a community: low high-school graduation rates, high dropout rates, high crime rates, and so on. So to the degree that soccer may help turn around some of those outcomes, and I have seen with my own eyes that well-run soccer programs can do just that, then ensuring a better future for soccer in the Las Vegas Valley is better for everyone who lives here.
And that goes without mentioning that improving the panorama for youth soccer locally may produce more players on a par with Herculez Gomez, which will only help the development of the sport nationally, as well as local pride.
The hour-long show featured the US team player Gomez, former running mate all-state player and now state assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, former state soccer association president Guy Hobbs, and founder of Universal FC club Edwin Canizalez. They spoke, I think for the first time in a public forum, about the balkanization of soccer locally between the suburbs and the barrio, the haves and the have-nots, the gringos and the Hispanics. (Full disclosure: I also wear a hat as manager of the U14 team for Universal FC, where my older son Jesse plays.)
Specifically, the guests addressed such subjects often left to sotto voce as, why are most of the best fields in this town in the suburban Summerlin area, while the emerging pool of many great future players, Hispanic immigrants, is concentrated on the other side of the valley? Not to mention the high costs of the largest clubs and the Olympic Development Program, pushing out many potential players. They also addressed the physical, run-and-gun style taught in the suburban leagues, called ligas americanas by Hispanics, versus the more technical (meaning skillful), creative style taught in the ligas mexicanas. Hobbs spoke of his frustration, for years, about the lack of integration between the two worlds, which he was convinced set back soccer as a whole in the state of Nevada.
Gomez spoke after the show of his dreams of coming back to Las Vegas, where his parents still live and where he grew up to give back by setting up some sort of academy. Kihuen represents a largely-Hispanic area around Rancho High School and is running for state senate; he mentioned a desire to channel the positive influence of soccer somehow through the political machinery. Hobbs wondered if he had gotten across just how frustrating it was for one side of the valley to have ignored the other side for so long when it comes to what may be the fastest-growing sport locally, and, again, a key to turning around many future social and economic problems.
Again, this may be the beginning of an overdue and vital dialogue about the beautiful game as it plays out in Las Vegas. You can listen to the show here: http://www.knpr.org/son/archive/detail2.cfm?SegmentID=7027&ProgramID=1994.