Sports have long been a unifier that can act as the glue to bring different factions together. In the 2005 Clint Eastwood film “Invictus,” rugby serves as the conduit to help salve wounds of long standing animosity and hatred between South African blacks and whites near the end of the apartheid era.

While there are no factions at odds in Del Rey like those in South Africa, organizers of the event believe that a soccer tournament can help continue to forge an identity for a housing project that has begun to turn the corner from a crime-ridden place with a questionable location into a community that takes pride in itself and in being a part of Del Rey.

The second annual Del Rey Cup will take place beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday Sept. 24 and will showcase six teams this year, with one representing Del Rey from Mar Vista Gardens.

Last year’s tournament had a larger turnout than expected, said event organizer Enrique Fernandez, and he is hoping that this year it will draw more interest.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Fernandez told The Argonaut days before the cup was slated for kickoff. “(The Del Rey Cup) really got Del Rey involved in Mar Vista Gardens.”

Hector Cruz, who will coach the team representing Del Rey this year, says his squad is young but energetic.

“We started training about three months ago, but we have a lot of young players who haven’t played before,” he said.

Many of the players live in the housing complex.

The tournament is not only about soccer: it is also seen by Fernandez and others as a way to showcase Mar Vista Gardens as well as solidify its identity to Del Rey.

The housing project suffered for decades from a reputation as a downtrodden place occupied by the Culver City Boyz, a local gang that operated in Del Rey and nearby Culver City. But through a series of initiatives that began with a partnership between the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific division, the office of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and combined efforts by Fernandez and local leaders, Mar Vista Gardens is now undergoing a metamorphosis where those who live there now take pride in the complex and the community is beginning to see it as another neighborhood of Del Rey.

Although the complex has a Culver City Zip code – 90230 – Mar Vista Gardens is within the Del Rey border and Fernandez wants everyone to know that. “We’re not Culver City, we’re Del Rey,” insists Fernandez, the director of Area G for the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.

“Mar Vista Gardens has come a long way in recent years,” said past Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Mark Redick, whose council supported the idea of the Del Rey Cup and committed to funding the venture last year. “I want to applaud Enrique Fernandez for bringing this remarkable initiative to the forefront.”

Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey, acquired lighting for the soccer and baseball fields that allow residents and teams to play late into the spring and summer months. The lighting was paid for with Quimby funds from Rosendahl’s office.

Quimby funds are revenue that developers pay into a fund in a specific council district when they are granted the right to build a commercial or residential project. The funds are typically used for park enhancements.

“When you give people a sense of security and a sense of confidence where they live, it energizes them and it enhances the community and its quality of life,” said Rosendahl, who attended last year’s Del Rey Cup.

Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe also tipped his hat to Fernandez for being a solid member of the local council.

“I credit Enrique Fernandez with continually bringing great opportunities to our council. He embodies what an area director should be – someone responsive to constituent needs while also being proactive and creative about sponsorships and outreach opportunities,” DeSobe said.

Rosendahl sees the boundary markers that he had installed on utility poles in Del Rey and in neighboring Mar Vista three years ago as a turning point for when both communities subsequently began to carve out their own respective identities.

“The day that we cut the ribbons for Del Rey was a historic day,” said Rosendahl. “Del Rey is a sleeping giant and it is becoming more and more recognized.”

Other events have taken place at the public housing project this year. Members of LAPD Pacific division, which patrols Del Rey, played a softball game against members of the Mar Vista Community Council Aug 2. The game drew high-ranking city officials to “the Gardens,” including Rosendahl and City Controller Wendy Greuel.

DeSobe said he and the local board expanded upon what he says the past council only talked about doing.

“I think on many issues our council has taken the words of past boards and turned them into action. The Del Rey Cup and other events like it were tossed about for years, and I credit all the members of this board for taking the next steps to make them happen,” he said. “The board has shown that consistently through its tenure.”

Fernandez, who grew up in Mar Vista Gardens, said that DeSobe’s board, as well as the previous council led by Redick, have been extremely supportive of the Del Rey Cup and of Mar Vista Gardens.

“I remember Mark was the one who got me involved in the neighborhood council,” he recalled. “Mark and (former Del Rey board members) Marlene Savage and Theresa Luo were very supportive of Mar Vista Gardens and the Del Rey Cup. Marlene even still comes to some of our meetings.

“So both boards have been very supportive of us.”

Cruz said despite his team’s youth, he expects the players to represent Del Rey and Mar Vista Gardens well. “We have a lot of spirit, and that’s 50 percent of the game,” he said. “We’re going to do the best that we can (in the tournament).”

The Del Rey council anticipated that it will give away approximately 100 bags of free school supplies to students who live in Mar Vista Gardens, which would double last year’s number.

There will also be a handball tournament during the Del Rey Cup beginning at 10:30 a.m.

“This is a great event for Del Rey,” Fernandez concluded. “It’s great for Mar Vista Gardens as well, because when people see that the people of Del Rey support them, it makes them feel more connected to the community and that’s what it’s all about: community.”

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