Chinatown bends it before the World Cup


By Leigh Devine

It was the gray team against the white, Dumpling & Dough vs. Ichiban, and Ichiban’s center was kicking the ball straight down the field towards the goal Sunday. Just then the whistle blew and the preliminary match was up — all in just 15 minutes. Next up would be Kong Kee versus International Furniture.

By 11 a.m. it was already Game 4 in the First Annual Chinatown Showdown, a new soccer tournament put on by the United East Athletic Association in Columbus Park to coincide with the World Cup, which begins Friday. Chung Hing Sin, 50, the U.E.A.A. chairperson, said: “We wanted to make an interesting event so kids will take it seriously and envision that one day they’ll be part of it.”

Unlike the World Cup teams, each of this tournament’s 5 teams had only 7 adult players, as opposed to 11, and each game lasted only 15 minutes. Some people played for two teams when an extra person was needed. And each team played each other at least once. But like the World Cup, the Showdown athletes and fans were an enthusiastic and international mix of players, participants and athletic abilitities.

Pierre Loo, 25, didn’t know anything about the event until his friend pulled him in at the last minute. Loo, who lives in New Jersey, stood at the sidelines in a bright red tee-shirt (Team CWCB) with a sweat-covered face. He’d just played two games, and lost both, but it didn’t matter, he laughed, “It was great.” Loo says the event was really well organized and he hopes that there will be more of such events. “I made some new friends,” he said, “and maybe I’ll play more soccer.”

The tournament was being broadcast live on cwcb.com radio, an all-Cantonese station whose studio is at 16 Bowery. Deejay Betty Lee, in the red-shirt of CWCB, said she did see one woman playing on the otherwise all-male teams. “I’m just a cheerleader today,” she said. Lee still calls soccer “football” since she was raised in Hong Kong, and says the British influence there is responsible for this. “Only Americans call it soccer.”

Jason Mazza, 31, exhausted after his second game, sprawled out on the field at the sidelines. He heard about the Chinatown Showdown on Craigslist.org where he saw a posting from a tournament volunteer. “It’s a great place to find players — big time,” he said. Though Mazza recently moved to the north edge of Chinatown, he had never been involved in neighborhood events before, but likes the international feeling of today’s tournament. “It’s the nature of New York,” he said.

The Athletic Association began 30 years ago as a way to offer sports programs to recent immigrants. “We don’t rely on state and city government,” said Sin, the chairperson, who is also a Citibank systems developer. “If we don’t help ourselves, who’s going to help us?”

The association also sponsors a summer program called “Fun Fun Saturday,” a series of classes and activities for kids including badminton, urban dance, computer art and English literacy. The event is entering its 13th year according to Yan Sin, the U.E.A.A. volunteer manning the trophy table covered with silver and gold bobble-headed figurines. Classes are held at I.S. 131 in Chinatown and various Downtown park facilities.

For the tournament final it was Ichiban and Dumbling & Dough at it again. This time Ichiban prevailed, and walked away with the championship. But it wasn’t team spirit that triumphed but rather community spirit, said the association’s chairperson. “Today is a special day,” Sin said. “We are emphasizing friendship over winning.”

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