As 5:30 p.m rolled around on Saturday, 53 year old Henry Wu stepped onto the upper field at Kennedy Middle School. He did not come wearing a uniform or with regulation mandated equipment. Instead, he brought a smile, some soccer balls and a bag full of jokes for whenever he got crossed up by his friends.
Wu comes by every Saturday evening to play pickup soccer games at Kennedy Middle School. Emails go out every Friday night to more than 200 people on their email list, asking who would be interested in playing the following day. Depending on everyone’s availability, they decide whether or not the game is on that week. This group was formed almost 10 years ago, and over time, the games have slowly grown in popularity.
45 year old Ashutosh Uniyal, who has been playing pickup matches with this group for five years, said that the players’ ages vary from high schoolers to people over fifty years old. The group is comprised of mostly software engineers that work for tech companies in the Bay Area. They all share a strong passion for soccer, saying that they have played for fun since they were young.
“These are only pickup matches,” Pengfei Wang said. “So we’re not playing because we’re going to win a medal…only because we love the game.”
Jignesh Shah, who grew up in India, said when he was young, there was very little space to play sports, and the few fields that they had were always packed with people.
“But here, there are so many fields, and they are all empty, and that just breaks my heart. ” Shah said, “I would love to see more pickup games like this, so that anyone who wants to play can just come and join.”
Uniyal explained that the best part about these matches is that he gets the exercise he needs, and he gets to have fun and make friends in the process.
“But here, there are so many fields, and they are all empty, and that just breaks my heart. I would love to see more pickup games like this, so that anyone who wants to play can just come and join.”- Jignesh Shah
But other players say that it also helps to relieve the stress and anxiety from their daily lives.
“For me, working, raising kids and making a living is tiring,” Wu said. “Over the weekend when we play, we get really tired, [but]in a different way, [so]when I go back to work on Monday morning, I have even more energy to work.”
Their message to you:
“Anyone who is interested in playing soccer or just wants to play a pickup match, come out and join,” Shah said. “Everyone is welcome.”
Additional Reporting by Om Khandekar