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Where There is a Court, There is a Game

Futsal

From left, Julio Rocha, Pablo Murillo, Daniel Martinez, Alex Campos, Angel Martinez, Jose Ramirez, Edgar Silva, Javier Alvarez, Boys and Girls Club Sports and Leadership Director George Nelson, and Andres Quijada at a pickup game of futsal at Holly Peace Park in April.

Kids, Hoops and Soccer at the Holly Peace Park
By Bob Boyle

Opening day at the new Holly Peace Park was a remarkable milestone and celebration for a block on the move. Nearly eight months later there is no shortage of excitement and collaboration as the new Boys and Girls Club facility takes shape adjacent to the new basketball and futsal courts at the park.

Local leaders are fully engaged via the Holly Area Redevelopment Project (HARP) and other stakeholders to help sort the many moving parts, site needs and overlapping interests. One of the stated goals of the HARP team is to secure an open, community-oriented planning forum and sustainable operational strategy for the site.

Among other important priorities, local change agents such as Prodigal Son Initiative, Hope Center, Denver Foundation, Urban Land Conservancy and other key players continue to embrace the power of sport to transform communities and provide safe and healthy recreational options for kids in particular. In an effort to respond promptly to community interest in developing innovative youth sports events, activities and programs at the Holly, HARP assembled and engaged a diverse and motivated solutions team to develop recommendations for the shared community space, including the courts.

Of course the kids won’t wait. They are ready to play and there is a steady stream of young student-athletes filing in to Holly Peace Park daily in search of pick up futsal and basketball games on the newly resurfaced courts. Ready or not, the games are on.

“We can see our kids over here playing soccer and basketball all the time,” said Boys and Girls Club Sports and Leadership Director George Nelson. “They are always looking for a good pick up game.”

So, What’s the FUTSAL About?

The word Futsal is derived from the Spanish or Portuguese word for “soccer” (FUTbol or FUTebol) and the French or Spanish word for “indoor” (SALon or SALa). The game is essentially a “small-sided” and highly creative version of soccer that is played on a space roughly the size of a basketball court – and there are many tactical and technical similarities to basketball. Futsal, and its bad boy cousin “Street Soccer,” is played in a variety of forms by boys, girls, men and women of all ages and ability, all around the world, and its popularity is growing rapidly in North America.

Soccer is easy to play and is often played in streets, alleys, basketball courts or nearly any open stretch of dirt, grass or pavement where there is a ball and players. The game is generally very accessible, gender-neutral and open to all ages and walks of life, which is one reason why the sport commands so much interest, attention and passion around the world.

“It’s amazing to have the great new resource in Park Hill, where kids can literally pour out of that [Boys and Girls Club] building and say “I’m gonna try soccer today”,” says Terrance Gunnells.

Coach Gunnells, who was named the 2012 Colorado Youth Soccer Competitive Coach of the Year, continues to bring his passion for soccer to thousands of local soccer players as Director of the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club’s U9 and U10 programs.

When Holly Peace Park opened in September 2012, a diverse team of organizers rallied local youth sports leaders to organize an age 12 and up 3-on-3 basketball tournament and a series of open 4-on-4 futsal pick-up games. When one of the many proud moms in attendance noticed that her younger kids were watching older siblings play basketball she asked if they might want to give soccer a try and rounded up 15 or so kids who had never played soccer. With very little instruction, the kids immediately started striking balls into the back of the futsal nets while laughing and smiling ear-to-ear. The kids instantly “got” how to play soccer. Futsal presented an easy opportunity for those kids to play and get some exercise, all the while developing an appreciation for sport via soccer. As many advocates of “the beautiful game” will attest, all you need is a ball.

World Games Sync Locally

I see it in the Spanish soccer team – do you see how they play? They never hold the ball. They never play power soccer where they kick it in and then run it down. They’re moving the ball – boom-boom-boom-boom-boom – and I’m sure there’s some sense to it. – George Karl, Head Coach, Denver Nuggets

George Karl, former Head Coach of Spanish fútbol (soccer) giant Real Madrid’s basketball team, is referring to 2010 World Cup Champion, 2012 Euro Cup Champion and #1 ranked soccer team in the world, the Spanish National team. Coach Karl has had the opportunity to coach basketball around the world and is openly respectful of the similarities between the sports, citing soccer as a relevant point of reference for his own basketball coaching strategies. Indeed, many Spanish soccer players grew up watching or playing basketball (credible sources claim basketball as the nation’s #2 sport), just as many Spanish basketball players grew up playing fútbol, including NBA stars Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

In the US, ESPN Sports Poll recently pronounced soccer as America’s second-most popular sport for those age 12-24 and ESPN continues to invest heavily in US television rights for soccer as the game grows in popularity stateside. As for local interest, a sell out crowd of over 19,000 fans showed up in a snowstorm at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to watch the US Men’s National Team secure a World Cup Qualifying victory over Costa Rica last month. The US team is competing in a 10-game “hexagonal” contest with regional finalists Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and Panama. Each team plays every other team in the group twice, once at home, and once away. The grand prize is a coveted spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

US soccer fans scored major points for the visibility of their sport last year when NBA uber-star LeBron James announced his financial stake in the legendary Liverpool Football (Soccer) Club of the fabled English Premier League. King James’ move into soccer is yet one more recent indicator of the game’s growing popularity in the US, as other NBA stars such as Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant salute soccer as key to their own youth sports experiences and development as world class athletes.

Hoops, soccer and the Holly Peace Park – two great games in one amazing new park. The kids are alright and, make no mistake, they’re ready play. Where there’s a ball there’s a game.

Bob Boyle is a Park Hill resident, youth soccer and basketball coach and lifelong student-athlete. Contact Bob at reboyle7@gmail.com for more information related to this article.

Futsal Two

Coach Gunnells and his colleagues continue to build strategic partnerships with local youth wellness advocates who are working to tap the popularity, accessibility and proven health benefits of soccer and bring the game to more kids in Northeast Denver. Last fall the Rapids and America SCORES Denver launched Soccer For Success, the United States Soccer Federation’s innovative youth development program that uses soccer as a tool to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy lifestyles for children in underserved urban communities. The program is currently serving over 1,100 children who live primarily within a Northeast Denver regional footprint the Piton Foundation has identified as the Children’s Corridor. Program results to date are encouraging as the first round of measurable health data come in for key youth wellness metrics including Body Mass Index, Aerobic Capacity and Waist Circumference.


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