NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS) –For the past four years I’ve been playing on a travelling soccer team. By waking up at six in the morning three times a week to do hill sprints and running 20 miles a week I’ve learned how to work hard and trust in my teammates.
While it was fun, it wasn’t easy. But no matter how much I struggle with speed, I know my challenges on the field are tamed by the privileges I have at home.
That’s not how it is for the Kelly High School Trojans in Brighton Park, Chicago. Maria Finitzo’s recent documentary “In the Game,” screened throughout the country this fall, covers four seasons of the girls’ team in a very poor, largely Hispanic neighborhood. Finitzo, who created the 2001 doc “Five Girls,” powerfully depicts the journey of these teens as they use what they learned from soccer to work hard to achieve their goals. That can mean supporting their family, getting a college scholarship, or something entirely different.
The 78-minute film focuses on three members of the team, over a four-year period, beginning in their junior and senior years of high school. Finitzo shows us how large of a role soccer plays in these girls’ lives, mostly off the field, and how much it has changed the way they take on the rest of their daily lives. The team’s record may not have been what they hoped for, having tied one and lost two of the games Finitzo shows us, but that does not affect their commitment. It continues through the next period of their lives, as they attempt college and decide what the next step is for each of them.
Alicia, one of the former stars of the team, makes dinner for her siblings three or four times a week because her parents cannot leave work. She is playing soccer and studying sports medicine at a community college when her financial aid is dropped, forcing her to work as a cashier to pay off her loans and be able to afford the rest of her education. Despite this setback, she remains determined, and as the film ends she commits to being back in college in five years. Alicia’s former teammate works four jobs, including selling headbands at a laundromat, to pay for architecture school. The former team captain, Elizabeth, goes to community college because it is all she can afford, and then transfers to Northeastern University. They don’t all succeed, but using the lessons they learned from their high school soccer team, they are able to continue to work hard for as long as it takes, and when the film ends, none of them are ready to give up, or to stop pushing further.
The one critique I have for this documentary is that I do not think that the sexism in soccer is addressed enough. As a female soccer player, I know firsthand that sexism is something all female athletes face. My team always comes second to the boys when it comes to field space and uniforms, and I have almost never played with a boy who was willing to pass to me. This must be even more true in a community like Kelly, with many immigrants from Latin America where soccer is historically a man’s game. Given the film’s target audience, Finitzo missed a good opportunity to raise awareness of this issue.
What is so important about this film is that it proves how much of an impact soccer can have on a person’s life. Finitzo takes the main lesson that all players learn, which is how to push yourself to your limit, and shows us a situation where this lesson is so much more essential, with these women who work so much harder than most everyone else for so much less.