Sunday in the park. The soccer field at Priory Park in River Forest to be exact. My son and I were there for the end-of-season parent/kid game of our American Youth Soccer Organization co-ed sixth grade team. The problem was that not enough parents showed up to take on the kids. So we had to recruit some ringers.
Bart was six foot something and 200-plus pounds of muscle with a military haircut and a heavy Polish accent. He was practicing shots on the field as we arrived. His goalie was a young athletic Polish woman named Margaret.
Our coach explained that we were down a few parents and invited Bart and Margaret to play on our side.
For all its diversity, Oak Park falls short in one important demographic: foreign born parents who grew up playing soccer.
Most Oak Park kids have parents who grew up with baseball, softball, basketball, football?#34;anything but soccer. You can read all the how-to-books about soccer in the Oak Park library and watch Bend It Like Beckham over and over on DVD, but unless you grew up playing the game, soccer will always remain something of a mystery.
I would like to see more native born Peruvians in Oak Park, and Algerians and South Koreans. The Nigerian dads that I know who are involved in local soccer are not only students of the game but great teachers. They communicate by words and example the intricacies of the game to kids who would not take as seriously a baseball dad turned soccer coach.
The only time this really matters is when our Oak Park AYSO team plays Elmwood Park. There the kids and coaches are likely to be from Mexico or Eastern Europe, and they regularly give us a whooping.
Back to our Sunday pick-up game. Because big Bart was fast and Margaret had a killer instinct for the net, the score was tied between parents and kids when some new faces arrived on the sidelines. There were five boys in their early teens in soccer jerseys, a sister and one boy's father. In accented English, the boys sheepishly asked to play.
The coach said, "we'll be done with the field in a half hour and then you can have it."
"No, no," a young man explained, "we want to play with you."
So a bunch of sixth grade kids from Oak Park, their dorky parents and two skillful Poles shared the soccer field with five teenage Mexican boys from Melrose Park. We divvied them up between sides.
At first, these hard-driving boys seemed to be playing amongst themselves, kicking the ball only to one another. But our inveterate sixth graders got over the initial intimidation and then dove right in as parents, kids, Poles and Mexicans mixed it up on the field.
After a few minutes of play, one of the boys from Melrose Park stopped to ask if his sister, who was sitting on the sidelines, could play. Out she came.
We had everything that afternoon. Full sun, a field to ourselves and everyone focused only on the game.