PITTSBURG — The smell of homemade tacos filled the air last Wednesday night, as kids and adults of all ages threw on their soccer jerseys, and kicked the ball to the beat of fast-paced Spanish music.
It’s a weekly tradition — every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., 10-12 teams play soccer on the field between Happy Family Asian Restaurant and Schlanger Park for a trophy, and a $150 cash prize.
Each team has a coach, and each game has a community member with soccer experience as a referee. Most attendees speak Spanish, originating from places such as Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala, just to name a few.
Luis Murillo, a senior at Commerce High School in Miami, Okla., who’s originally from Mexico, travels half an hour every Wednesday to play in the tournament.
He said he does it for his dad, who still lives and works in Mexico, and taught him how to play.
“I like the sport,” Murillo said. “I compete hard for the trophy. I feel excited because my dad used to watch me play a lot, and every time I play, I know he’s always looking at me.”
Humberto Lira, a sophomore at Pittsburg High School, competes with the same goal of improving. This year, he recruited his friends from the Pittsburg soccer team to play with him.
“For me, it’s trying to get a lot of experience and bring it to the high school field,” Lira said, wearing El Salvador’s team jersey. “I love coming. If it weren’t for soccer, I’d probably be a way different person.”
Across the street from the field is Ministerios el Jordan — a Hispanic church whose members organize the tournament.
The games all started with the church’s head pastor, Edgar Poroj — who was born and raised in Guatemala. He started organizing them when he moved to Pittsburg five years ago, and bought land.
A few months after he bought it, he opened the field up to the community and started games as a way of spreading God’s word. He painted field lines, and set up goals for two soccer fields.
Now, he can be seen mowing and maintaining the fields.
“My goal was to have [people] leave the field, knowing that they can have fun,” Poroj said through a translator. “Whatever you’re going through, God can change lives. God changed my life the moment I met him, and here we are.”
In between the first cycle of games, Poroj takes 10 minutes to preach the word of God, and talk about Ministerios el Jordan.
Poroj even joins the game himself and plays for the prize, too.
“The players have said they feel privileged to have me play with them,” Poroj said. “I’m trying to show them that you can enjoy and be happy with God too, and do it in a healthy way.”
Poroj, however, said he doesn’t take all credit for organizing the event.
His daughter, Jackeline Poroj, stands at the sidelines, taking payments from the teams. The teams have to pay $25 to play, and $200 before the semifinals, to help maintain the field. Edgar’s wife, Wendy Poroj, is also a pastor at the church, and helps organize the event, too.
Proceeds from the food served at the games go to the church.
“It feels good,” Jackeline said. “I’ve met a lot of great people here, and I was new to the community too.”
Tony Leiva wasn’t religious before he started playing in the tournaments. But after he joined, he was inspired to join Ministerios el Jordan, and find his way to God. Now, he helps organize the tournaments.
“I feel satisfied,” Leiva said through a translator. “When we first started, we had huge expectations and the key was always being consistent.”
The games, however, are not just for the Hispanic community — they’re open to anyone.
“We don’t discriminate at all. The more the merrier,” Jackeline said. “Our main goal is to reach out to the people. If anyone is interested in joining, they’re welcome to.”
The players are currently in the preliminary rounds. In October, the four teams with the most amount of wins will move to semifinals. The winners of the semifinal rounds will move on to finals, where there’ll be live music, and an awards ceremony where the winning team will take the trophy and cash prize.
If interested in starting a team and joining the tournament, call Edgar Poroj at (620)-687-5188.
“Out of all of this, I feel satisfied to see youth in our church,” Poroj said. “They’ve been taken out of addictions, and found a better life in God. It makes me happy.”