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Late Knights On The Soccer Field

As Westport debates Big Issues — senior housing, state mandates for affordable housing, the tiny minority population here — one word pops up often: “diversity.”

No one claims this is an economically or racially diverse town. But it is diverse in some ways. Westport is filled with people from around the globe. A couple of years ago, for example, of the 66 boys in the Staples High School soccer program, 33 — exactly half — had at least 1 parent born overseas. That list was extensive: Vietnam, Egypt, Norway, Mexico, you name it.

And speaking of soccer, alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor sends along these thoughts:

On the 50th anniversary of jUNe Day next month, Westport will continue its wonderful tradition of hosting staff from the United Nations, and their families.

But a mini-UN can also be found 52 weeks a year at Long Lots and Wakeman, in a pickup game among soccer old-timers. I had the great pleasure of playing with the group —  called the Westport Late Knights  — on weekends (before health issues forced me to the sidelines in 2008).

At one point, I counted almost 20 different nationalities in the game. Over half the players live in Westport. Others are friends who live nearby, and/or used to live here. I used to play soccer in Central Park, and the international mix was no greater than in the Westport games.

One benefit of the Westport pickup games is great camaraderie, accompanied by cultural exchanges and lessons: in international dishes, foreign beers, and learning how to express one’s displeasure to the referee in a variety of languages.

The Westport Late Knights on a trip to England, in 1999. Fred Cantor is in the front row, 2nd from left, between the two players whose hands are on their knees.

Politics is sometimes discussed. It was interesting for me to hear first-hand the views of those who have come here from overseas, and to hear what their friends and families back in their native countries were thinking.

Another benefit is that this month the Westport Late Knights took their 10th international trip, to Slovakia. They played matches (known as “friendlies”) against other old-timers. Past trips have been to England (twice), Italy (twice), Ireland, Spain, Bulgaria, Costa Rica and Antigua.

The trips were almost all organized by Late Knight players with ties to those countries. The trips enabled us to meet and socialize with local residents in a way we wouldn’t normally be able to, as tourists.

The Late Knights on their trip this month to Slovakia.

Naturally, it hasn’t always been pure fun and games. The Late Knights organized one fundraising tournament in memory of a player’s relative who died in the South Tower on 9/11. They organized another tournament as a fundraiser in memory of a team member’s daughter who died of leukemia. And they came together to raise money for a memorial bench and fund in remembrance of teammate Kuti Zeevi, who was murdered in his Westport jewelry store during a robbery.

The Late Knight members are indeed a mini-UN — with soccer cleats.

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