Liga Azteca de Futbol, a three-month long soccer academy in Edison, is aptly named. The Aztecs, ancient people of Mexico, were one of the first known civilizations to play a ball game, known as Ullamaliztli, a sport which involved two teams, a field, and a constantly moving ball.
Sounds like soccer, right? Well, not quite, but Azteca and futbol are paired together frequently in Mexico. Even a world-famous soccer stadium, Estadio Azteca, bears the name.
Facilitated by El Concilio (formerly the Hispanic American Council), Liga Azteca de Futbol is now in its third year. And it's doubled in size from serving 40 youths to now enrolling nearly 80.
“Baseball and football are not as popular as soccer in Latin American countries,“ says Adrian Vazquez, Director of El Concilio Kalamazoo. “There are a lot of athletic programs outside of the community, but they are expensive, and our parents often can’t connect with other people because of the language barrier.”
Liga Azteca de Futbol was formed in order to provide a convenient, affordable option, one for which the parents could also become engaged, either as spectators or coaches.
“We have the Kalamazoo Promise, but minority kids are not using it as much as they could,” says Vazquez. “Physical education and academic education are connected. Hopefully, when they graduate, they will have a positive feeling about college.”
At a recent practice at St. Joseph Catholic Church’s gymnasium, Vazquez took off his hat as El Concilio director and put on his whistle. Along with volunteers from Western Michigan University’s Omega Delta Phi fraternity, he led a group of about 20 children in drills.
Jesus Cabrera Soto, 9, is in his third year of participating in the league. He says he comes to see his friends and pass the ball to his teammates, but he likes being goalie best. “I like being goalie because I can hold the ball,” he says.
Maria Rodriguez enrolled her son because of the affordability. “I’ve met a lot of people,” she says. “You make friends and get to see people you normally only see for cookouts and holidays.”
Practices are on Monday and Tuesday, with games on Saturdays during the three-month long season. “The program is at the close of the school year so kids can stay involved when the school year ends,” says Vazquez. “It keeps them out of trouble.”
Thanks to funding from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and sponsorships by two local sponsoring businesses, Cortez Flooring and Carpeting and El Ranchero Mexican Market, the league was able to purchase equipment and uniforms, keeping the cost to participants at only $45.
Registration for students ages 7 to 15 is currently open. A form and more information can be found on the El Concilio Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HACSWMI/