Hispanic children in Central Ohio take to the soccer pitch

There's one defender between Casey Hernandez and the goal. Just a little twitch of the 8-year-old's left shoulder and an expert tap with his right foot on the soccer ball, and the defender goes down - diving after a ball that's already beyond his reach.

Practice is almost over for the small group of boys and girls ages 3 to 17 who practice with the Ohio Hispanic American Soccer League. The shadows grow long as the children break into smaller groups and practice crisscross passing between orange cones at Westmoor Park on Columbus' West Side.

Most of the children are Hispanic. Many are the children of immigrants. A few are immigrants themselves, from countries all over Latin America.

"We started the children's league to give Hispanic children an opportunity to play soccer," said Jesus "Janos" Quezada, OHASA's president.

Six years ago Quezada, 35, realized that many children in his community weren't spending time playing the sport he enjoyed as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico. He suspected registration fees and the language and cultural barriers some immigrants face were keeping Hispanic children out of youth soccer leagues.

Quezada, who has run an adult soccer league for Latinos in Columbus since 2001, decided he'd organize a league for children too. But he had a hard time scheduling games and practices for more than 130 children with no budget and no staff.

He applied for and got tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization.

He reserved fields at Westmoor and Krumm Parks. And then he got creative.

Families pay $35 for their children to play in each 14-week session. They practice twice a week and play games on Saturdays and Sundays.

At the end of the session, if a player has gone to all the practices and games, the league gives half the fee back to the family. And if the players' parents volunteer with the league - as a coach, referee, taking pictures or selling food and soda during the games - the league refunds the other half of the fee.

"We try to make it so that it's free for everyone," said Quezada

For Casey and his family the league is a source of pride, said his father Lionel Hernandez. During the summer tournament Casey scored 26 goals.

"He feels really good about OHASA futbol. He learned a lot there," said Mr. Hernandez, who came to Columbus from El Salvador with his wife 15 years ago.

Casey is practicing every day, he said. He has set the bar high for himself.

"He says he wants to be a star," Hernandez added. His hero? Christiano Ronaldo, a forward for Real Madrid. "He wants to be just like him."