Despite the threat of rain, 24 teams and more than 175 players showed up to play in the fourth Annual Evanston Unity Soccer Festival held on July 14 at Kamen Park. According to Elliott Hurtig, founder and organizer of the event, “The purpose of the festival is to celebrate Evanston, its wonderful diversity, and the passion that so many people have for the game of soccer.

“This is really a grassroots effort to bring people together, to make connections and build a strong sense of community. Soccer is the vehicle for doing it, but the real energy for the Unity Festival comes from the players and fans that bring positive vibrations and appreciate the spirit that drives the event,” added Mr. Hurtig.

Noel Abbot, participating in his fourth soccer festival, said, “The Unity Cup brings together everything I’m truly passionate about: soccer, community and multi-culturalism. In this tournament you not only get to play soccer with your neighbors but you witness the joy soccer brings to all of our different cultures.”

Each year, the soccer festival has continued to grow. In its first two years there were 10 teams, last year there were 15 and this year there were 24. Players ranged in age from 14-62 with a mix of men and women. This year there were returning teams from Campagnola Restaurant, JaHbat FC, Gross Pointe Social Club, and alumni teams from ETHS and New Trier and Deerfield.

New teams included a team from Somalia called Banaadir f.c., Boltwood Restaurant, and St. Nicholas’ Church. Since this day emphasizes unity over competition, it is one of the few sporting events in which the scores of the games are not kept and there are no officials. Franz Calixte, ETHS soccer coach and social studies teacher said, “It is so unique to have games with no winners and no refs, but it helps everyone buy into the goal of the day which is just to be together playing the game we love.”

This year’s event was notable for the impressive increase in women participating. There were six teams made up of women and several co-ed teams. Chrissy Peterson and Nicole Bosco, who each played soccer at Augustana, participated in their first soccer festival. “I know I was influenced by the women soccer players I saw growing up because there weren’t too many of them. Now I am so excited that there are so many girls who have picked up the sport,” one said.

In addition to ETHS freshman girls and boys soccer coach Harold Bailey serving as DJ, the Unity Festival featured Tony Garrett and his Ajoite Drum and Percussion group.