by Jesus Hernandez, VoiceWaves, attended a recent Media Bootcamp in San Diego.
“Let’s hit DeForest today at 7,” reads a text message received by David Rodriguez, 16, Long Beach Jordan High School. Within minutes, he grabs a water bottle and changes into his shorts and heads out of the door. Many youth who live in low-income neighborhoods are without adult supervision from the time they leave school until the time they have dinner, maybe longer. Some youth will, unfortunately, fall into the perils of gangs and drugs but others find creative ways of not only keeping themselves out of that life, but also keep their friends away from it as well.
“This place is so cool because people from all over the city come here and sometimes they don’t even play,” said Rodriguez, “my friend Mario lives on the West Side and he rides his bike over here… he tried paying a few times but he really sucks and he makes us loose.”
DeForest park is located in North Long Beach and is bordered by a trailer-park, the Los Angeles River and a low-income neighborhood. But years ago, Long Beach youth began using the vacant tennis courts found at this park as make-shift indoor-soccer courts. Games last as long as it takes one team of five players to score on the opposing team. There are people who have been coming to this park for more than eight years and say that these games had already been going on since before then.
“I have been coming here since I’ve been about 10 years old, my older brother has been coming to this park since I can remember. He has always been busy but I can always remember him coming here every Tuesday night. I come out here every night,” said Rodriguez. The allure of the trash-talking strangers who become friends by the end of the night and the yellow glow of the stadium lighting which seamlessly replace the natural light of the setting sun are just a few of the charms that keep Long Beach youth coming back and staying out of trouble. “I can’t think of people coming here for anything else. I think each court has about 25 people wanting to play on them and there are four courts,” said Rodriguez.
With youth from all over gathering at these tennis courts, the possibility of violence is very real but according to the local police division, they have only been called out to this park once in relation to those playing on these courts. The reason being that someone stole a bicycle that was left unattended.
Even though there has never been any trouble reported, the police can be seen driving by the park a few times throughout the night. The threat of having the courts closed is enough to keep most people from causing problems. “If this place was ever to stop letting us play here, I don’t know where I would go,” said Rodriguez. He is one of man who keep this tradition alive in the city who have made a choice to play soccer as a means of keeping themselves out of trouble. Rodriguez, anxious to return to the game, concluded with, “I don’t like the people that sell drugs and try to get me to join their crews. I try to stay away from them and playing soccer is all I have.”