Blair Sports Academy indoor soccer league has become a hot ticket
Dozens of students line the perimeter of the arena, raucously rooting on their favorite teams and erupting in cheers after every amazing save, complex move and devastating goal. Although the atmosphere rivals that of a professional event, the players are Blair students, rocketing a soccer ball around the small gymnasium to the screams of their countrymen, fans and foes. The Blair Sports Academy's (BSA) indoor soccer league has become the most popular after-school activity for Blazers, and as the 26-team league reaches its championship game today, Friday, the BSA is the talk of Blair Boulevard.
A Quick Dash to Popularity
Interest around Blair in the indoor soccer league has grown exponentially since its inception three years ago, when the league had just 14 teams. Jose Segura, the Montgomery County Recreation Department director of the BSA, attributes the growth in both participation and popularity to several key factors. "There are a couple of variables that make the league so successful. First is the diversity of the school, and second is the opportunity for those students who haven't achieved a 2.0 GPA to play," says Segura.
Blair P.E. teacher and co-director of the BSA, Emmanuel Charles, credits last year's participants in the BSA with the league's rise in popularity. "The kids who played last year spread the word," he says. "The players saw how much fun it was and told their friends."
Jack Graul, a member of the team Los Gringos—last spring's champion—says he hears students discussing the indoor soccer league on a daily basis. "All the time, kids ask when we're playing, or if we won last week. Sometimes kids even bet on the games," says Graul, whose team was eliminated from the league's 20-team Double Elimination Tournament early last week.
The Universal Appeal
The soccer league's unique appeal has reached every community inside Blair. Teams like Ethio Promiseland 1 and Ethio Promiseland 2—this year's favorite to win the championship—treat the league like the World Cup, playing for the pride of their home country, while other teams choose to emulate their heroes, such as upstart teams Juventus, D.C. United and Barcelona. Team names range from Allen's Fan Club to 503 El Salvador to Los Galaticos, and each team expresses its unique personality on the hardcourt field.
The team that perhaps best represents the diversity of the BSA is United Nations, whose roster is made up of a group of friends—juniors Alex Asare-Wassow, Dag Otto Groennaess, Alec McLean and Francois Miglianico and senior Vince Howard—who hail from different countries, as far away as Ghana and Norway.
And though Asare-Wassow maintains a serious tone when he's on the pitch, he admits the BSA's appeal is not limited to the soccer. "First of all, it's free," he says. The BSA routinely offers spectators and participants free slushies, ice cream and snacks.
Graul says the BSA appealed to him "because it's right after school," and he and Asare-Wassow agree that sticking it to their buddies in the tournament is equally important. "It's competition against friends," says Asare-Wassow. "And enemies," adds Barcelona forward Matias Salina, who admits to having taken the game too seriously last spring, when he was ejected for fighting during the season-ending tournament. "People just want to win," says Salina. "If they lose, they get really mad."
Although Segura says "the goal for the program was to provide an after-school activity for at-risk youth," the BSA has become an arena for Blazers to immerse themselves in heated competition. Charles says the competitiveness of the games is a result of the fact that "these kids love soccer, and a lot are never going to play for real teams, or they are ineligible, so this is like their championship."
Both Segura and Charles are confident the BSA will be successful in years to come; with an increased budget and plans to add more sports to the program intramural sports should continue to grow. "The county government expanded the budget at the end of May to fund [the Blair Sports Academy] through 2007," says Segura. "We've been given 314,000 dollars for a 40-week program, including a summer program, and hopefully a fall basketball league."
The impact of the BSA has given students more than just a place to go when classes are over. As Graul describes it, "the BSA is more than after-school soccer."
The championship game of the BSA's season-ending 20-team Double Elimination Tournament will be played after school in the small gym today, June 2, or as Ethio Promiseland 2 defender Firew Abirham puts it, "when we're getting the trophy."
Abe Schwadron. Abe is a huge basketball, baseball, and football fan that likes to read up on sports in SLAM, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN magazines. Hobbies include streetball, poker and film-making. A sneaker addict, Abe likes to keep his kicks fresh. Abe likes reggae and hip-hop music, … More »