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Minneapolis Parks Foundation > Common Ground > People for Parks Fund > SOL of the Cities Brings Inclusive ‘Serve-to-Play’ Futsal League to North Commons Park

SOL of the Cities Brings Inclusive ‘Serve-to-Play’ Futsal League to North Commons Park

Sol of the Cities Futsal League brought the sport of futsal, along with 12 teams of kids ages 8-14 from across the Twin Cities, to North Commons Park for a 6-week tournament in July and August, as a part of the City of Lakes Summer Games, organized by Seeds to Harvest.

Initiated by the futsal leagues of Twin Cities Sol Futsal and Karen Football Association, along with support from more than 20 community partners and sponsors, Sol of the Cities created a Futsal community that brings together, celebrates, and highlights the diverse communities that make up Minneapolis and the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is proud to support Sol of the Cities with one of our six inaugural People for Parks Fund grants, which supports community-driven projects and programs that nurture stewardship, community, and enjoyment of Minneapolis parks.

Futsal is a five-a-side team sport, similar to soccer, but played on a hard surface about the size of a basketball court. Players use a slightly smaller ball than traditional soccer, but it has a greater weight and about 30% less bounce. It’s a fast-paced game that emphasizes quick foot-skills.

The “Serve-to-Play” Model

To offset the participation cost for the players, Sol of the Cities functions under a “serve-to-play” model, where each player provides an equivalent amount of service-time to game-time, as opposed to a typical “pay-to-play” system that repeatedly excludes families from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

After each game on Saturday, players devote their time to a service project for that day, like tree-planting, trash clean-ups, or leading community aerobics classes in the park. Brett Buckner, Managing Director of OneMN and Co-Chair of Seeds to Harvest says, “This is a league that focuses not only on the vast life skills that sports can teach, but also on creating habits and hearts of service.”

The importance of creating a space where diversity is felt on all levels is instrumental to the mission and goal of Sol of the Cities. “That’s what it’s all about, really, bringing communities and kids together who normally wouldn’t play together, or interact at all,” says Sparkle Wimberly, Co-Founder of TC Sol Futsal and the Sol of the Cities Futsal League, pointing to an ongoing game. “See these two teams? There’s no way they’d be playing each other in the same league. The soccer/futsal teams have to Pay-to-play, and those league fees are expensive. Those are the barriers that our programs break.” 

Gender Equity and Education at Karen F.A.

Kyle Johnson, Executive Director and Founder of Karen Football Association (Karen F.A.) in St. Paul shared a similar sentiment with me when I talked with him after his team of girls from the Karen Youth Futsal Academy finished a game. The Karen F.A. organization is dedicated to gender equity and education, as well as the development and growth of the sport within the Karen community. Karen refers to an ethnic group with Tibetan-Central Asian origins from Burma. St. Paul is home to one of the largest Karen communities in America, with more than 17,000 Karen resettling in St. Paul since the early 2000s. Kyle explains, “We want to encourage immigrant and refugee communities to get involved, and make sure our young girls are finding the same opportunities as the young boys are.”

Pictured from left to right: Ava, La Poe, Eh Dah, Novem, Lauren, and Mue Ler from Karen Youth Futsal Academy.

It was fun to sit down with a group of girls from the Karen Futsal team who shared a few of their favorite aspects of Futsal with me.

“I love it because I get closer with the people I’m playing with and make more friends.” – Mue Ler

“It’s a really welcoming group. Like, you could be new, but everyone will welcome you into the community.” – La Poe

“Especially being here on Saturday, it’s so fun. At home, when you have nothing to do, you come here and have something fun to do. Instead of watching a screen or something at home alone, we get to come play Futsal together. It’s a get-away” – Eh Dah

“It was cool also when we got to go play at another one of the team’s fields. We went to where Fusion plays and got to know them a lot better. It was really fun and definitely worth the 30-minute drive.” – Novem

“I think I liked the swimming suit service project best. We got to write personal notes to everyone when we gave them [kids at North Commons Water Park] the donated swimsuits. They got something special along with the suit.” – Eh Dah

Including the Community

Not only do the players and their parents come out to the park every Saturday, but Seeds to Harvest and Sol of the Cities have grown it into a big community event. After all, the games take place at one of the largest, most utilized parks in North Minneapolis.

One Saturday, a woman named Cathy approached me after the aerobics class and, slightly out of breath, exclaimed, “This is phenomenal!” Cathy lives a block from the park and told me she doesn’t have a futsal player here. She just came because she heard about the free exercise class. “Working out and being outside in the park with the youth is amazing. This intergenerational community focus is so important.”

It’s about Futsal, but it’s also about the community, the service, the teamwork, the friendship, the healing, and the future of these young players.

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