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Monday, August 10, 2015

The OLA Cup -- A celebration of soccer and community

Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern

It was a cool evening at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights area of DC.

The stadium lights were beginning to turn on, a Latino radio station was playing crowd favorites, and the mouth-watering scent of chorizo and beef on the grill was attracting scores of people from around the neighborhood.

The main event, however, was on the field where the U19 DC SCORES alumni team was set to take on long-time rivals La Marita Junior (LMJ) in the annual Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) Cup Tournament.

Crowds filled the bleachers and once the opening whistle blew, an exciting match ensued with both teams possessing multiple scoring opportunities.

Despite their best effort, the DC SCORES team was ultimately defeated 2-1 by their rivals.

While disappointed, coach Popsie Lewis encouraged his players to remain optimistic, reminding them how insignificant just one game -- even a rivalry -- is and to look ahead to the next one. The team was just one of Popsie's, too, and was sponsored by Accurate Conceptions. He also coached a U-15 DC SCORES team in the annual event. And coach Asa Davis led a DC SCORES girls team sponsored by District Sports to the tournament championship in their division!

Coach Popsie Lewis talks to his DC SCORES U-19 team at halftime of their OLA Cup Tournament game. 
As both teams made their way back across the field to greet family and friends, the rivalry was shed and players from the opposing teams joked around with each other and had a good laugh.

"A majority of the kids know each other," Popsie said of the rivalry, "from elementary, and once they get to middle and high school they start playing on these different teams, and it becomes a neighborhood rivalry."

While moving on to different schools may have caused a small rift between the players -- on the field, at least -- the friendships which underlie their history remain firm.

As the vibrant and diverse crowd dispersed from the Bell soccer field, the family-like camaraderie of the Columbia Heights community presented itself in the hustle and bustle of the streets.

In just the two minutes I spent walking with Coach Popsie, a number of friends and strangers -- some from the opposing LMJ team -- called out to tell him "good game" or "best of luck."

My biggest takeaway from the event: any time soccer can bring the community together like OLA has -- win, lose or draw -- it's a celebration for everyone.

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