After being asked 10 years ago to coordinate the soccer portion of the North American Indigenous Games, the folks at Southwest Youth Services had a light-bulb moment to create a positive event that was good for their community. They created the annual Indigenous Soccer Cup Championships for Native youth ages 10-19.
After event organizers saw a profound and positive impact of their event to the youth, they knew they had a winner. “We were all blown away by the fact that for the Native youth, the students, soccer was one way they could cope with issues within their families, their schools,” executive director JoAnn Melchor says.
The event, which takes place July 20-24 in Albuquerque, is geared toward creating tribal leaders, budding college students and cultural pride. “This event makes a major impact on Native youth. We’ve had participants come back many times.”
Experience is not required and engaging on and off the field with up to 300 youth from other tribes is a huge plus, says Melchor. “One year, a bunch of boys from Montana brought their basketballs with them. They picked up some [soccer] skills and loved it. They got into the competitiveness and team spirit of the event. I think they came in second that year. I think they were surprised at how much fun it is and how much of a challenge it is.”
Last year,Temryss Lane, a former Team USA co-captain from the Lummi Tribe. served as a guest speaker during the opening ceremony.When Lane was headed to the airport as teams began warming up. “She said, ‘I can’t leave. This is what my passion is about,’” Melchor recalls. “She canceled her flight. She ended up staying two more days to coach children that were there.”
With a system modeled after the Olympics, the soccer cup awards medals to first, second and third place, with a trophy going to the winners.
The event says one of its proudest moments was being designated a national youth leadership conference by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
For more information about the Indigenous Soccer Cup, see www.southwestyouthservices.org.
Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is a correspondent and columnist for ICTMN. He can be contacted via Twitter:@caryrosenbaum