The Douglas County Fairgrounds' athletic fields on May 31 were buzzing with activity — baseball games and families chatting as they watched their children. Field No. 4 was alive, too. The game: …
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The Douglas County Fairgrounds' athletic fields on May 31 were buzzing with activity — baseball games and families chatting as they watched their children.
Field No. 4 was alive, too. The game: soccer. It was the first official match in the summer league La Liga.
Among the kids chasing after soccer balls was Jennifer Hernandez, 16, a rising junior at Douglas County High School. She's lived in Castle Rock for most of her life, but she's new to soccer.
“Last time me and my parents went to a soccer game, it seemed really, really fun,” she said. “I wanted to try it out.”
Hernandez already knew she'd be back for more games, and she was in good company when her goal was to pick up a sport for the first time.
Some kids arrived in T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes. Others in jeans. More came in cleats with their shin guards and goalie gloves.
The new league is for anyone of any skill level, and everything is free. Soccer balls, uniforms and meals are provided. There are no registration fees.
There's one more feature: Most of the coaches and trainers are bilingual, speaking English and Spanish.
The soccer league has a mission — to be accessible for kids from any background. Those who know the game and those who don't. Those who have their own gear and those who don't. Those who speak English, and those who don't.
Hernandez is one of the players who's bilingual. She mostly speaks English, but her parents are still learning. “I like using them both, mixing them,” she said with a laugh. “I don't know why.”
League focuses on connections
Organizers said the end game with La Liga is to foster connectivity, in part for the Latino and Hispanic community, but within Castle Rock and Douglas County as a whole. So far families have come from areas like Denver, Highlands Ranch and Franktown to participate.
The U.S. Census 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates put Douglas County's Hispanic and Latino population at 8 percent of the county's total population. For Castle Rock, it was roughly 10 percent. However, these numbers were from when the town's total population was estimated at 54,000, and the county's at just over 314,000. Today, Castle Rock has a population of 65,000 and the county more than 346,000.
“What we're kind of touting it as is, yes, a chance to play soccer, but also a chance to connect kids with others in their community — to be a resource,” said Marsha Alston, a youth services program manager with Douglas County.
The league formed when Alston met Peter Rodriguez, a co-pastor at Nueva Vida church in Castle Rock. Most of the La Liga volunteers come from Nueva Vida. The bilingual church began three years ago and meets in Calvary Chapel, at 1100 Caprice Drive, on Sundays and Fridays.
Alston and Rodriguez said they've seen growth in the county's demographics in their own ways.
Alston saw an uptick in her cases with families whose second language was English, she said, although it's nowhere near the majority of her workload. Rodriguez has steadily watched Nueva Vida expand from a 20-member group meeting in his home to one of 70 members today. Most are Spanish speakers.
The church's mission is to serve its members' needs, whatever they may be. With a primarily Hispanic congregation, Rodriguez said, those needs span from housing and transportation to getting jobs that support living in Douglas County.
Rodriguez first learned Spanish while growing up in Cuba. He moved from Canada, where he was born, to Cuba for the first four years of his life, then to California and finally to Colorado roughly 11 years ago. Here, he says he knows families “sacrificing huge” to pay for their child to play on competitive teams, like club or school athletics.
“You see people working incredibly hard," Alston said. "One job, two jobs, mom working during the day, dad working at night.”
There's also added pressure from the national immigration debate, Rodriguez said.
“Right now, especially, the environment is kind of precarious for immigrants, and there's a lot of fear,” Rodriguez said. “They just want to be part of something. They came here with dreams. Now I think a lot of them are feeling not accepted, and so we want them to know that they are loved, they are valued and they are contributors, just like everyone else.”
Game helps create bonds
Soccer, Rodriguez said, is just one step, one bridge to help gather the community together, support it and give it better access to needed resources.
Hernandez said she met new people through La Liga after the first game. So did Andrew Saldana Alvarez, 13, a rising eighth-grader from Sagewood Middle School in Parker.
He lives in Franktown with his family but came to Castle Rock May 31 after hearing about La Liga through Rodriguez's son.
“It's pretty fun," Saldana Alvarez said. "Having the variety of different people here, all different skill levels, different ages.”
Having a bilingual league, he said, is an added benefit.
“I think it's better because there's a lot of people in Castle Rock who just speak Spanish. It brings people together,” he said. “This league, almost anyone is able to play it, because you either speak English, the natural tongue here, or you're bilingual and can speak Spanish.”
Alston does not speak Spanish, but La Liga is connecting her with new people, too.
“I just enjoy listening to the language and meeting new people, meeting people I maybe wouldn't normally meet because of the language barrier,” she said.
With the first game on May 31, there are seven games to go. The league meets every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Douglas County Fairgrounds soccer fields through June 26.
More than 60 kids were registered by May 24, but there's room to grow, Alston and Rodriguez said. Players are allowed to register throughout the season.
“The needs — it's connectivity, it's belonging,” Rodriguez said. “Soccer is the bridge, but it's not the end.”
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