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Immigrant Families Find Soccer Shockingly Expensive To Play In The U.S.


Around the world, soccer is played by the rich and poor alike. It's a cheap sport - no pads, no special equipment, you just need a ball. But in the United States, soccer has become the domain of the white suburban well-to-do. Just registering for a club team can run about $1,500 per year.

Immigrant families who played soccer in their old countries can't always pay. In Nashua, N.H., two brothers responded by founding a low-cost high-level Latino soccer club. Here's Emily Corwin of the New England News Collaborative.

JARED BARBOSA: I can't remember a day without soccer to be quite honest.

EMILY CORWIN, BYLINE: Jared Barbosa is an elementary school guidance counselor, but he was raised by a pro soccer player, a Brazilian who competed all over the world before settling here in Nashua. Every Sunday, Barbosa comes here to the Dunstable soccer fields to play in an adult soccer league, 150 or so mostly Latino guys compete on different teams. They've been coming for years.

BARBOSA: It's an eventful Sunday here when the adult league is playing because there's kids all over, there's family, there's food, there's music.

CORWIN: It was here, on one of these Sundays, he began to realize something was wrong. Kids were kicking soccer balls on the sidelines. Later, he'd see them dribbling in the street or doing tricks on basketball courts.

BARBOSA: And seeing the level, the ability, the good players.

CORWIN: The problem? They weren't playing on any organized teams. Barbosa and his brother, a college-level soccer coach, wanted to know why. Parents told them this.

NELLY CIRASO: Well, it's too expensive.

CORWIN: Nelly Ciraso is just one of many parents whose kids were priced out of Nashua's club soccer scene. She grew up in Mexico. Soccer is that country's most popular sport. Her kids played for a while on the local rec team, but rec soccer teams can be especially informal.

To get good at soccer, most kids join youth club teams before they hit their teens, but playing on these clubs can add up to more than $4,000 a year. Other sports like basketball and American football are often more affordable, but those aren't necessarily the sports these kids' parents grew up playing.

BARBOSA: Yes. Be there, red.

CORWIN: Today, Ciraso's kids play for a competitive club team run by the Barbosas.


CORWIN: Ciraso watches her kids from the sidelines and banters with other parents.

CIRASO: I love the coach because he's strict but he's nice. He's firm with the kids. And I think the kids, they need that.

BARBOSA: (Speaking Spanish). That's it.

CORWIN: This club costs $100 a year per kid. Siblings are half off, uniforms are included. They go by LHIFA, or the Latin and Hispanic International Football Association. Their five teams consist mostly of boys and men of color, but anyone can join - any skill level, race, gender, income, ability to pay is welcome - as part of a growing effort across the nation to make high-level soccer accessible to lower income minority youth.

BARBOSA: Yellow drop, drop, drop.

CORWIN: This club is demanding. You can see it in the footwork. Even the 9-year-olds fake each other out and pass across the field. Geovanny Quintana is on the under-12 team.

GEOVANNY: They coach us hard. They don't want us to give up. They want us to be professional soccer players, so that's why we train hard every single day.

CORWIN: The hard work is paying off. Last year, two of LHIFA's five teams won the New Hampshire state championships. For NPR News, I'm Emily Corwin in New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Corwin covers New Hampshire news, and reports on the state's criminal justice system. She's also one of eight dedicated reporters with the New England News Collaborative, a consortium of public media newsrooms across New England.