At the St. Mary’s High School soccer field in Annapolis, people watch players running up and down the pitch through a chain-link fence.
To passersby, Saturday’s Copa Amistad 2018 might seem like any other weekend gathering in Annapolis. Families cheering on their respective mothers, sons, daughters and fathers while they play soccer on a warm afternoon in early June.
But, now in its fourth year, the Friendship Cup continues to grow as the area’s Hispanic community coalesces around it.
According to organizer Willians Castillo, the tournament has now expanded to 16 teams which are then separated into squads comprised of adult men, adult women and children younger than 12.
He said it’s a far cry from the modest showing the tournament saw four years ago, when he first approached Father Miguel Angel Martinez about using the school’s field that sits vacant during the summer.
“They needed some entertainment for the summer,” Castillo said, adding that he was shocked when he was allowed to use the field for free.
“It’s like $5,000 to rent fields,” he added.
Out on the field, the competition is pretty serious, despite the tournament’s inviting title.
Castillo points to several players on the pitch who are on their respective high schools’ varsity soccer teams.
While there aren’t exactly any aggressive slide tackles, the players look to be running full speed and aren’t afraid to make a dash at a ball going out of bounds.
On the sidelines, Geyson Escobar, a 30-year-old Easton resident who is originally from Honduras, watched as he waited for his turn on the field.
He said he used to play in the Honduran Liga Nacional de Ascenso, of the second division of Honduran soccer, before he emigrated to the United States for work.
He said it can be a struggle to integrate into the community at times when comparing day-to-day life to Honduras, adding, “Everything is different.”
For Escobar, Saturday was just a day to relax and be around others that have gone through a similar situation as him.
“I like this type of activity to share different things and cultures,” he said.
Castillo said the tournament’s growth is encouraging because it brings Hispanics from all backgrounds together for a family activity.
He said it gives younger participants something to do and, for at least one day, “keep them away from the gangs and guns.”
It’s been an issue Hispanic organizations and nonprofits are trying to tackle, as the influence of MS-13, a violent gang from El Salvador that has branches in the Washington, D.C., region, is being felt in Annapolis.
The victims of recent murders in the Annapolis area prosecutors say were carried out in connection to the gang were all young adults, as were the alleged perpetrators.
But, for some of the adults, it’s an opportunity to play the sport that they played professionally back in their home country.
Martin Sarabia, a 34-year-old Annapolis resident originally from Mexico, said he played for Tercera División de México, or Mexico’s fifth tier of professional soccer.
Sarabia said through a translator that he had to quit the game for a while after falling through the ceiling of a house during a carpentry project, which put him in a month-and-a-half-long coma.
For his first time in the tournament, the former goalie said that while doctors originally gave him a two-year recovery period, he was back playing soccer within a month of coming out of the coma.
As for the competition, the former professional simply said “very competitive. (The) levels (of competition) are pretty good.”