NEW ORLEANS — In Honduras, Carlos Chirinos-Padilla said, it was too dangerous to run. Soccer games were street matches, short bouts confined to the few feet in front of his house. Drug cartels roamed the neighborhood, he said, sometimes forcibly recruiting his neighbors, sometimes murdering them. Carlos and a group of other boys stole space and time when they could, but the violence left little room for dribbling.
When he fled Honduras for New Orleans two years ago, Carlos, now 16 and a high school junior, hoped for just two things: a quiet place to live and an opportunity to play real soccer on a real team. A high school squad, he thought, would be the best place to start.
Carlos enrolled at Cohen College Prep, a small high school in uptown New Orleans. For nearly 70 years, Cohen had been largely African-American, but Carlos’s arrival coincided with a demographic shift at the school. Five years ago, the school had no Latino students. Teenagers whose first language is Spanish now make up more than a quarter of the 350 students enrolled. Statewide, the number of Hispanic students has tripled over the past decade, from 17,000 in 2008 to 50,000 this year. Almost as soon as the new students arrived, teachers said, they started asking to play soccer.
But Louisiana won’t let them play.
For The Hechinger Report and ESPN’s The Undefeated, I wrote about Louisiana’s refusal to allow immigrant students to play high school sports.