La Liga soccer league in Santa Fe (courtesy of Cesar Bernal)

Making an impact through a year-round, affordable soccer league

Cesar Bernal moved to Santa Fe from his native Zacatecas, Mexico eight years ago to seek work after completing his studies. Soon Bernal was playing soccer with other fans of the sport from Mexico. Two years ago in 2011 Bernal noticed the limited soccer arrangements around Santa Fe for children.

“In [Mexico] we usually play soccer all year long, but when I came to Santa Fe I found they played only half the year because it’s too cold to play [otherwise],” says Bernal.

With temperatures that dip into the single digits for much of the winter, outdoor soccer really would be arctic for the area. And with two young daughters Bernal had a further incentive to get a league going. Though he was also working two jobs, Bernal was motivated to make youth soccer  available and affordable for Hispanic families in Santa Fe.

This spurred Bernal to create La Liga, a youth soccer league in Santa Fe that currently boasts over 700 players and 80 different teams.

Recently Bernal was honored by the Santa Fe New Mexican as part of their “10 Who Made a Difference in 2013”, showcasing volunteers that have made an impact on the community.

When the league first started Bernal worked with the Boys and Girls Club to get indoor facilities. According to Bernal the inaugural year for La Liga featured twelve or thirteen teams. The massive expansion in just two years speaks to the popularity of the league with kids happy to take part in the world’s most popular sport.

La Liga also owes much of its success to the number of volunteers who have offered up their time and services as coaches. Each child who enrolls is asked to pay only $45, a cost that goes mostly towards securing facilities and bringing in referees and other personnel.

Donations have also come in from several Hispanic restaurants and salons within the Santa Fe community. Bernal credits much of the popularity of La Liga to the impact it’s having on the city. “We’ve found a community.”

Currently La Liga has moved into its indoor facilities for the winter season. Though Hispanic children still remain the majority in the league that gap is closing, something that Bernal is actually quite pleased with.

Speaking to Chris Quintana from the New Mexican, Bernal highlighted his desire to “marry” the Hispanic and Anglo cultures of the area.

“All the kids represent one soccer community,” says Bernal.

Something that Bernal is looking forward to which could increase that community-oriented attitude is the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Since many of the kids began playing soccer Bernal has noticed them paying attention to different games while they are getting ready for practice. He has also heard them mentioning players set to take the international stage in a few months.

As for the future of La Liga Bernal hopes to grow even further by making Santa Fe a competitive site for soccer on the state-wide level. Traditionally Albuquerque has been the destination of many elite players. Although with all the growth for La Liga, that hegemony might be changing.

La Liga soccer league in Santa Fe (courtesy of Cesar Bernal)

La Liga soccer league in Santa Fe (courtesy of Cesar Bernal)

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