A traveling soccer tournament for Muslim youth and their families will be making Schaumburg’s Olympic Park its first Midwestern destination this Saturday through Monday.
In addition to finding its largest ever venue in Schaumburg, the Umoja Games, now in their sixth year, are expanding their scope to include social, spiritual and career components as well as age categories for parents and grandparents to play some soccer.
Among the activities for the more than 500 players and spectators will be a Hunger Van where nutritious lunches will be packed for others in need, said Mustafa Dinani, chairman of the Umoja Outreach Foundation.
There also will be many professionals on hand — including doctors, mathematicians and accountants — for the young players to meet with through the foundation’s mentor program, he said.
Among those the group hopes to help are 60 to 80 players being bused from refugee settlements in Ohio.
Another change to this year’s tournament is a stepped-up emphasis on girls, who too often can feel ignored by events like these, Dinani said. The goal is to make them feel as welcome and empowered as the boys, he added.
While some Muslim girls choose to wear hijabs in their everyday lives and others don’t, those who do will be able to play in shorts and without head coverings in the privacy of one field whose fences will be covered with tarps and where only female spectators will be allowed, Dinani said.
A big part of the appeal of the Schaumburg Park District’s Olympic Park is its eight soccer fields with artificial turf that don’t need to be rested between games or after rain.
Dinani said he first learned about Olympic Park four years ago, but the Umoja Games were still too small at the time.
Most of the previous participants have been concentrated on the East Coast, and prior tournaments having been held in New York; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Orlando; and Toronto.
The amenities of Olympic Park and the potential of drawing new participants in the Midwest made Schaumburg this year’s choice, Dinani said.
Dave Parulo, president of the Schaumburg-based Meet Chicago Northwest visitors bureau, said the amenities of Olympic Park have drawn many sports tournaments from around the nation.
“I think the park district was far-reaching when they put that (park) in,” he said.
While the Umoja Games have sought new destinations each year, Parulo said he would like to see the tournament return.
“A customer is a precious thing,” he said. “Once you have them you want to keep them. I’m sure they’re going to have a great experience here.”