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Tournaments help draw participants to safe space for play, says community leader Ricki Ruiz.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Ricki Ruiz serves as the organizer and referee of the weekly indoor soccer tournaments. Ricki Ruiz wanted to see more participation at a city-sponsored open gym event that takes place every Sunday night in Gresham, but he was having trouble getting local children interested.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The games are played with five-man teams, including a goalie. When the only offer was a space to play indoor soccer with friends, few were attending.

"They kept asking me, 'What do we win?'" Ruiz said. "We weren't getting the numbers we wanted."

So he came up with a plan to host weekly indoor soccer tournaments with the winners taking home a prize. The winning team earned medals and bragging rights over their peers. Ruiz, who works for Gresham's Office of Governance & Management, implemented the plan the weekend before Thanksgiving to roaring success. While the previous open gym only had about 15 children, when the medals and tournament format were introduced, the participants jumped to 65 kids.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Usually around 70 children attend the indoor soccer tournaments every Sunday, forming teams with their friends. "A lot of these kids lack indoor places to play," Ruiz said. "This is the only place in Gresham open to them that is free."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Local youths have a safe place to play indoor soccer thanks to a partnership between the city of Gresham and Friends of the Children. Kids in middle school and high school are able to come together and compete at the tournament, which is run by the city and held at Friends of the Children's gym, 424 N.E. 172nd Ave. Teams are formed on the spot, with people filling in as needed. In all its controlled chaos, and the children waiting in the wings to check in cheer in approval with each slicing move and goal. Some parents and younger siblings also line the sidelines to support their children.

"I know a lot of these kids, I've been working with them for a couple of years now," said Ruiz, who serves as both the organizer and referee. "It's important to make a connection with them."

Sunday night, Dec. 3, was the last tournament for the next couple of weeks. The plan is to revert back to the open gym, with the hope those drawn by the prizes will continue to attend to spend time with their friends being active.

"These kids have made a lot of friends here, so I think the numbers will still be high," Ruiz said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Participation in the open gym time was low until Ricki Ruiz decided to implement a tournament with prizes.

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