University City

Multiethnic group lets Charlotte newcomers 'kick it' with friends

Vincent Yao had played soccer since age 12, and was happy to find a soccer group last June shortly after moving to Charlotte from Boston.

The group meets every Sunday morning at James Boyce Park. The cultural background of many of the players also was important to Yao.

Yao, 30, is an Uptown resident, and knowing there were plenty of people with a Chinese background in the soccer group helped ease his adjustment to a new city.

The soccer group is loosely connected to Charlotte Outdoor Adventures, an organization that emphasizes outdoor activity and team sports.

The soccer group welcomes players from all ethnic backgrounds; most are from other countries. Group organizer Andy Phan, a CHOA leader, has parents who are Chinese and Vietnamese. He says some of the other ethnic groups often represented include Latinos and Russians.

Phan said the group started about four years ago among a community of Bank of America employees with ties to China. Most of the Chinese-American players participate as a way to pass time after they drop off their children at The Charlotte Chinese Academy, a Chinese culture and language educational program at nearby Providence Day School.

Drop-off is at 10 a.m., so the adult players hustle to the park to get in as much playing time as they can before the noon pickup.

"So the parents get together and play," said Kai Su, a 45-year-old father whose daughter Lucy Su, 15, attends the Chinese language class. "We figure, why not do some exercise? The parents just kick it around a little bit."

On a weekly basis, 20-30 men participate in the pickup games. There aren't enough regular players to develop a league and they often play with numbers fewer than a regular 11-on-11 game.

Even playing on a field that's probably half the regulation size, with goals that don't have nets, however, doesn't dampen the players' zeal.

Having played in a professional youth developmental league in China, Yao would like to find a more competitive league. He says he played in such a league when he lived in San Francisco, where there are "a lot of retired Chinese professional players."

The Charlotte group communicates on the field in English and Chinese. Yao said he is pleased soccer has helped tie together his cultures and made his transition from Boston to Charlotte smoother.

A fellow uptown resident, Andy Lin, has played with the CHOA group for two years. The 29-year-old lived in China until four years ago. A Bank of America employee, Lin spent a year each in Mexico and India before coming to Charlotte. He plays soccer with two other pickup groups, including a group of Chinese-American students at UNC Charlotte.