Noé held a shiny new soccer ball over his head. The 9-year-old sized up the makeshift soccer field demarcated by temporary goal posts and smiled impishly at his teammates. He threw the ball in and ran back into the game.
Noé was one of a handful of migrant children who played soccer at Travis Park on Thursday afternoon with San Antonio Football Club captain Michael Lahoud, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), and Botika chef Geronimo Lopez. Treviño organized the game as a way to give migrant kids a chance to take a break and play. Soccer is their comfort zone, he said.
“This is a way to get them back to feeling normal, feeling like kids again, stepping away from whatever circumstance has created this unfortunate moment in their lives as they’re transitioning,” Treviño said. “Kids should play. It’s as simple as that.”
Treviño joined children and parents for a brief soccer game during the warm Thursday afternoon. Staffers handed out paletas and water to players and spectators alike. Lahoud showed 12-year-old Cesar a complex handshake, laughing as the boy copied his movements. Lahoud said the idea of playing soccer with migrant children resonated with him because he also was a refugee. When he was 6 years old, Lahoud fled civil war in Sierra Leone and moved to the United States.
“I couldn’t speak the language, but I understood soccer,” he said. “Soccer saved my life. When the councilman said, ‘We have a bunch of kids here, how can we bring them together?’ And I said a soccer ball. It’s the world’s game and it opened doors for me, and I hope it’ll do the same for all of these kids.”
More than 10,000 asylum seekers have gone through the City of San Antonio’s migrant resource center, which opened eight weeks ago in response to a sharp increase in migrants passing through the city. The resource center is near Travis Park, and Treviño said it seemed like the perfect spot to bring kids and parents to enjoy the outdoors. His office planned the outing weeks ago, he said and noted it was pure coincidence that President Donald Trump’s administration canceled recreation programs for asylum-seeking children on Wednesday.
“We [originally] planned for it to happen two weeks ago, but [the soccer players’] schedule didn’t allow it, so we planned for this week,” Treviño said. “It’s ironic the president would find a way to do the opposite of what we’re doing today.”
Lahoud, who speaks Spanish, connected easily with the children. At the end of the first game, his team lost 4-1, but no one paid attention to the score, he said.
“We just got on the field, introduced [ourselves to] each other, and said ‘You wanna play?’ They invited me to play in their game,” he laughed.
Treviño said he hopes to continue connecting San Antonio FC soccer players and migrant kids in the future.
“We’re going to learn from this and work with the players,” he said. “We don’t know [how this will continue] just yet. But we’ll do something because this is happening in our city and as long as this is happening, we know there’s going to be a need.”