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VOL 3. NO. 26 Monday, July 9 - Sunday, July 15, 2001
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Bob Marley Soccer Tournament: A Cultural Celebration for 20 Years
By Avonie BROWN

Barrington Brown & Aston Ellis, photo by Avonie Brown

Bob Marley, courtesy photo

For many Americans when they think of the national past time, baseball, football and basketball outrank soccer. But in reality soccer is the international sport of choice with a fan base that is fiercely loyal and far surpasses the other sports in size. The game has been firmly entrenched in the Caribbean with young men going to creative lengths to play the game regardless of the limits to the resources they have available to them. It is no wonder then that they bring with them this same passion and commitment to the game when they migrate to the U.S.

Such is the case for Jamaican born Aston Ellis and Barrington Brown, the driving force behind the Bob Marley Soccer Tournament scheduled for July 14-15, 2001. The two Maryland residents seem to live and breathe soccer. And this is no exaggeration because Ellis was very proud to declare, "There is no other sport in the world that I cherish like soccer and I will play until the day I die!"

It is this level of enthusiasm that has sustained their coordination of the Bob Marley Soccer Tournament for the last 20 years. An impressive track record by any account. But the story begins before then.

Brown, said that both he and Ellis have somehow been involved in soccer since they arrived in the U.S. 30 and 32 years ago respectively. And for several years two local teams, Roots United and Strikers International Soccer Clubs, hosted separate summer tournaments that were gaining popularity. But the death of reggae legend Bob Marley on May 11, 1981 proved to be a unifying force.

Most reggae music lovers are very familiar with the lyrical and musical mastery of the reggae superstar who would have been 56 years old on Feb. 6. In fact 20 years after his death, Marley's legacy is still growing as the world continues to celebrate his creative genius. His album Exodus was named by Time magazine as the best album of the century, while "One Love" was deemed the best single of the century by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Twenty years ago the members of Roots United and Striker International recognized Marley's cultural significance when they merged their forces to create the Bob Marley Soccer Committee, Inc. Central among the unifying force were Ellis, Brown, Frank Henry and Bobby Newsby.

Ellis said that Marley was a natural choice for this new entity because he too was passionate about the game of soccer. His love of the game is documented in a chapter of Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz' 1995 book, Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom. They write that whether at home or on the road, Marley would rise early to run, work out or participate in a soccer match. He played everywhere, even in cleared out hotel rooms and would sometimes schedule interviews and rehearsals around the games of his favorite teams. His sports heroes were soccer players in Brazil.

Ellis has a personal reference point as well. He said that as a young man he played pick-up matches with Bob in Trench Town, Jamaica well before he became a reggae music icon. "As a matter of fact, he was a much, much better soccer player than a singer in those days," said Ellis. Bob also questioned his choice of music as a career confiding in some friends that he should have been a soccer player instead, reported Boot & Salewicz. Fortunately for us the world was denied his athletic prowess but gained his musical genius.

Since its inaugural year, the Bob Marley Soccer Tournament has been a premier cultural event in the metropolitan area, said Brown. "Everyone understands Bob's significance culturally and I think that gets transferred to the event." The cultural aspects of it -- the music, food and social interactions -- attract people to the event. But while Marley's name and ever present music adds another dimension to this tournament, its longevity is due to the hard work of Brown, Ellis and the people who have been apart of the committee through the years. At one point there were 10 committee members but now there three active members -- Ellis (President), Brown (Vice President and Tournament Coordinator) and Claudette Jones (Secretary).

The three volunteer their time and expend personal funds to organize the event each year. And it takes a year round effort to get things organized, Brown said, "because we strive to take things to another level each year." He said that because they have gotten better they attract more teams and this year expect at least 38 participating teams.

"There is no other tournament that has been run as long or has been as extensive in the number of teams as this one," said Ellis. "We've seen a lot of tournaments come and go, even some that we thought would survive end up lasting no longer than two or three years," he said.

The Bob Marley Soccer Tournament has attracted teams from all over the U.S., Canada as well as Trinidad and Tobago, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana and Nigeria. And less you think the teams are limited to the Caribbean/immigrant community, organizers insist it is open to all teams. Each year the committee sends out invitations to soccer clubs and in the 21 years the face of the participants have changed some. "We have quite a few young American teams, including white teams that now participate in the tournament. After so many years we are well known in the soccer community and the tournament is well anticipated by teams. In fact some teams do plan their schedule around this tournament," said Brown. This year Ellis said the committee has also been doing some work to include some of the area's Latin teams.

With a growing number of teams participating in this two-day event, the tournament has generated between one to five thousand spectators. One year they had as much as 10,000 people attend. This popularity is proving to be a double-edged sword. The committee is frustrated by its inability to have a fixed venue to house the tournament. They have used eight to 10 different locations throughout the metropolitan area and each year it has been a peaceful, family-oriented reunion. But none-the-less they must contend with one obstacle after another. Ellis suggests that many are intimidated by the strong cultural component of the event. "In 20 years there has never been any violence connected with the event yet there has been resistance to the group using venues," said Ellis. "We hear complaints like the affair attracts too much people, there's too much noise, the music is too loud or there's not enough parking." As a consequence each year they must invest a lot of time and energy in the search for a suitable site.

"We need space to be able to accommodate all the teams that want to participate. Right now we have to restrict the number of teams because we do not have the number of fields necessary to keep the games going efficiently," said Brown.

But the pair remains undeterred. "This hasn't been without some frustration, but we remain motivated because we love the game and want to continue to promote an interest in it," said Ellis. But did they envision that 21 years later they would still be as interested or committed to doing the tournament? "If it wasn't soccer, I know I'd be involved in giving back to the community somehow," said Brown. "But while we do have the support of teams and the community, we were hoping that other things would have opened up to us after all this time. Things like a venue and sponsorship," he said.

The typical budget for the tournament is $7200. While they do receive some corporate sponsorship (typically promotional items like balls and T-shirts) and get some funds from team registration and vendor fees, the tax-exempt organization relies on the two chief committee members for much of it funding. The committee has initiated discussions with D.C. United and hope to have them on board for upcoming tournaments.

The committee's ultimate goal to build an infrastructure that will sustain well beyond their individual participation. They would also like to build a strong financial base that will allow them to create scholarship fund. "We get requests for assistance now and again this comes out of our pocket," said Ellis. "So we would like to put something in place for those students in need."

This year the Bob Marley Soccer Tournament takes place on Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at Accokeek Park in Accokeek, Md. The event is free to the public. For more information call 301-552-6417 or email aston.ellis@bobmarleysoccer.com or barry.brown@bobmarleysoccer.com or visit the website www.bobmarleysoccer.com.

To comment on this or any other article by Avonie Brown email avonie@metroconnection.info

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