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DOWNEY - International travel is not unusual for the young soccer teams of Downey AYSO Region 24, but an 11-day cultural trip to Puerto Rico last month proved to be a once in a lifetime experience.
"Ten of the kids had never been on a plane before so they really enjoyed it," said Alicia Ramirez, volunteer coordinator for Downey AYSO Region 24. "We travel the most, last year we went to Costa Rica. We try to do it yearly -- it's a cultural exchange deal."
In an effort to expose Downey youth to native life and interact with local soccer teams, six AYSO Downey teams, parents and coaches made the journey to Puerto Rico on July 8 for two full days of friendly games.
The Downey teams included boys 10U, girls 12U, boys 14U, girls 14U, girls 16U, and boys 19U, along with their respective coaches Bruno Leal, Michael Rios, Armando Rodriquez, Gerry Gutierrez, Jorge Ramirez, and Marco Egurvide.
Each team did fundraisers all season long in order to pay for airline fare, hotel accommodations, and food costs.
"It cost $1,200 for kids 16 and younger and for those 17 and older, it was $2,100," said Ramirez, whose daughter plays on the 16U girls team. "Our team sold candy apples, but we had yard sales, car washes, and of course the fireworks stand. Tacos El Gavilan donated and we received a $500 donation from Northgate Market."
With the help of revenues from AYSO games, the players were able to raise enough money to cover their travel fees.
"We usually take things to donate -- equipment, balls, jerseys, cleats -- the people there were telling us they don't get a lot of things unless someone comes," Ramirez said.
On July 10, during opening ceremonies of the games, the mayor of Carolina, Carmen Yulin Cruz, welcomed the Downey teams and pledged to update the local soccer facility and keep it open for soccer teams in the area.
Cruz also promised the Puerto Rico teams that the city would install turf on the fields.
"This was the greatest news for us and for all the teams. The facility had been closed for a number of years due to lack of funding," Ramirez said. "The kids there were so grateful. I think our presence there helped even more than us taking them things."
Ramirez said the U16 girls team made AYSO history by being the first regular travel team to compete against Puerto Rico's national U17 young girls team.
"Our girls lost, but the score was 4-0 so not bad for a team that was set up six months prior," she said. "We did win the majority of the games, but they were competitive. We all just enjoyed spending the whole day watching the games."
Ramirez continued: "The kids took some tours, went to the beach, and the older ones were able to spend time with the teams and talk to one another. A lot of them spoke Spanish and English and found it hysterical how words were different in Puerto Rico.
"It was a nice experience, the kids really enjoyed it," she said.
Published: Aug. 22, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 19