The Del Rey Cup makes community happen one goal at a time

By Gary Walker

Kids compete in last year’s  Del Rey Cup

Kids compete in last year’s
Del Rey Cup

Standing on a playing field in Mar Vista Gardens, Enrique Fernandez allowed himself to dream that a neighborhood soccer tournament could become a beacon for unity and revitalization.

“I can remember thinking that if we could just get people to come and play soccer, that would be the start,” recalled Fernandez, who grew up in the public housing complex and now serves on the Del Rey Neighborhood Council. “If we could get people interested in coming to Mar Vista Gardens, we could get the community to take a look at what we’re trying to do here, which is give people hope and make Del Rey a better place.”

That was seven years ago.

Now one of Del Rey’s biggest annual community events, the Del Rey Cup returns on Saturday bigger than ever.

What started as a small local soccer tournament with a back-to-school supplies giveaway has become a draw for not only youth from outside the neighborhood, but also local police.

For the past two years, Fernandez has welcomed members of the LAPD’s Pacific Division to the festivities at Mar Vista Gardens — once home of the notorious Culver City Boyz, which remains under a city gang injunction.

LAPD officers who are involved with the Del Rey Collaborative, an effort to strengthen bonds between law enforcement and residents, will be at the tournament to watch the games and interact with players.

This year six to eight teams of kids ages 9, 10 and 11 will compete in a double-elimination tournament on two fields. For the third year in a row, the tournament features co-ed teams.

“We went to that format so it would be worthwhile for teams from outside Del Rey to want to play in the Del Rey Cup. We wanted to make it competitive this year,” said Fernandez, a former youth sports coach.

Malleke Lord, who’s coaching the Mar Vista Gardens All-Stars and also serves as athletic director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, said the Del Rey Cup gives neighborhood youth an opportunity to test their skills in a friendly environment.

“Soccer is one of the most popular sports among our kids. We average about 150 kids who come to the club to play Mar Vista, Del Rey and Culver City in the summer,” Lord said.

As in prior years, the Del Rey Neighborhood Council is giving school supplies to students who live in Mar Vista Gardens, as well as other tournament players who may be in need.

“We view it as an opportunity to further community activities and showcase our civic pride while giving back to the public by fostering and supporting our youth,” Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Scott Dellinger said.

Mark Redick, a former Del Rey Neighborhood Council president who’s now vice-president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, was among the Del Rey Cup’s biggest supporters when it started in 2010. He credits Hernandez with much of the improvement that he’s seen at Mar Vista Gardens over the last five years.

One of the enhancements that Redick points to is the acquisition of outdoor lighting for the playing fields in 2010, paid for with funds that local developers must pay toward park improvements in exchange for the right to build.

Children can now play at night during the summer, and the park is alive again with activity.

“Many residents didn’t believe me when I told them that I would try to get new lights for the park,” he recalled. “Now we have softball tournaments with the police department, which I think minimizes the tensions that people have sometimes with the police and former gang members who are trying to walk a straight line.”

For Fernandez, the Del Rey Cup has made possible what he always hoped: building community bonds through sports.

“It’s grown into a real community event,” he said, “just like I wanted to see it become.”

The seventh annual Del Rey Cup begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at 4901 Marionwood Drive in Del Rey.