Meet Lazaro Xique, founder of NYFILSA, a not-for-profit soccer league in Harlem.
A legendary figure for young inner-city players, Lazaro is a dedicated father, mentor AND referee, who has passed his love of the beautiful game to thousands of New York City kids over the last 20 years.
This is his story...
Everything began with me over there on the baseball field. That field was the beginning of everything. I was playing street soccer on the baseball fields. The soccer fields weren’t like how they are now. Back in the day, it was all big rocks in the middle, it was very bad. So we played every evening on the baseball fields. One day while I was playing, somebody hurt my ankle very badly. My friend and I went over to one of the benches to try and fix my ankle, but it was broken already. He asked me what happened, and I said “I broke my ankle, something’s wrong.” The same day, he said it happened to him too. We asked ourselves what we’re going to do now. We see our kids playing with the ball on the side. We looked at each other and said “This is our future. We have to teach our kids to play.” Since then, everything began as a club. We started cleaning the fields and moving the rocks to give ourselves space to play and train the kids. Years later we registered in the city as a club, now I have 172 kids training.
I’m in the jewelry business, so during the day I work at my store and take care of business to make money for my kids. Every weekend we spend almost $200 to travel to play. Sometimes the parents aren’t able to support us, so we pay for the expenses. I take money from my business to take care of the expenses. It almost cost me a divorce. We come back from training late at night. But I see the kids and they’re so happy. I explained to my wife, “Let me prove this to you that this will work.” The reason I keep doing this is because I see at a certain age kids start joining the gangs. This is the best thing to do to keep kids away from that, so I’m going to keep doing it. I looked at my partner that I started this with, Filemón Sierra, and said, “Let’s stop the kids from joining. Let’s save them.” So we protect each other.
One of the experiences that I’ve had from this that I’m very proud of is my son. When I remember, I feel very happy. It’s not because of sadness, it’s because I’m happy. He went to college, the first in the family. Now he has a Master’s degree. He’s going for his doctorate, he just left today. I hope he can be a part of the story because every day he reminds me, today he said “Dad, keep doing what you’re doing because I’m a result of that.” Raising four boys in this neighborhood is not easy. Now I see a lot of kids go to college, and they come back and always thank me and Filemón. They always come back and they want to play, and that’s a reward for me. All we do is teach them the basics of soccer, and to work as team. We win a lot of tournaments but that’s not what we want, that’s not why we do this. We want them to work together and pass what we teach them to others. We have a lot of talent here, too. There are kids that have gone to play at the semi-professional level, but honestly I don’t keep track of all of them because I never want rewards from them. If they want to do something for us, they’re going to do it by their hearts not because I ask.
Sometimes the parents are divorced, or there’s no one available to take them to the practices. There’s family problems sometimes. When the parents have problems, the kids have problems and come with that anger. We try to talk to them and help them. We’ll talk to the parents try to help find a way to get the kids to practice or whatever it is. When I talk to the parents I tell them, “I know it’s not easy, but keep doing what you’re doing. At the end of the day, you’re going to have rewards.”
I used to say when my youngest kid went to college, I’ll stop managing the league here. I’ll retire. Now I have a grandson and he loves soccer so now I have to wait for him. Now that my kids are older, I don’t have responsibilities to them but now I have a responsibility to my community. I will do something big. I have big dreams and I feel confident. Even though I never make money, and everything I make I invest in the kids, what I have is big.
I tell my own kids, “Don’t be part of the pack. Be different.” What I tell my kids here is, “Be part of this pack. This is different.” I see kids on the streets involved in drugs or whatever, and when they see me the turn around. Not that they’re scared, but they respect me so when they see me they feel like they’re doing the wrong thing. When I see it, I tell them to stop because that’s how you ruin your life. Change it. Do something else.
NYFILSA is a non-for-profit organization founded in 1998. Its goal is providing the inner-city youth of Harlem, and its neighbors, with the best professional league experience. NYFILSA’s main objective is to develop and improve the lives of its participants, and to promote educational achievement through mentoring. We believe that all young adults should have the same educational opportunities. To achieve this goal we have partnerships with other programs that intend to help the youth of Harlem for today, to provide fine outstanding citizens such as The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and her Honorable Judge Sonia Sotomayor, for tomorrows America.