It was a hot, but perfect weekend for the 27th Hmong 4th of July Sports Festival at McMurray field in St. Paul. More than 20,000 people again showed up for the Hmong American communities largest summer event – which was held the weekend before Independence Day on Wednesday.
The festival draws Hmong community from around the country, and the world,, anywhere that Hmong have resettled over the past thirty years. These extended families meet at events such as this all over the country, but the St. Paul tournament has come to be the main event as the heart of the Hmong American community.
The coveted soccer tournament title went to the Minnesota Magic, the local team that beat the Tornadoes from California, who took second place. Third Place went to Wisconsin Midwest United.
The Minnesota Twin Star, a team that has taken many first place titles over the years, finished fifth in the tournament after losing to the Magic. This was not small feet to emerge from a field of 43 teams over a two day tournament in the hot sun.
Tournament organizer, Chu Pheng (King George) Lee, said that many of the younger players on the highly competitive Twin Star went over to the Magic to get more playing time. He felt the result was that this very formidable team developed strongly and surprised a lot of other teams.
Much of the attention on Sunday afternoon was on a soccer match that did not factor in the tournament. It was just a game for fun between a collection of community leaders of other states against Minnesota leaders.
Lee noted that the “away” team was comprised of men from California, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina, and other states and from as far as Thailand.
Lee remains head of one of the best Hmong sports events in the country. He is happy that the diversity among the players and teams has grown, to include youth and women’s tournaments. No longer is it a Hmong only or a Southeast Asian only event. The 2005 tournament included Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian teams. There was also a team comprised of Somalian and Saudi Arabian players.
The event also hosts three other tournaments. Hundreds of other players competed in men’s and women’s volleyball tournaments; takraw, and topspin tournaments.
A Wisconsin team won the men’s volleyball title. Look for a completed list of winning teams for next week.
The Fourth of July event is also an opportunity to browse the merchant venders of Hmong made textiles and other merchandise. The event is a draw for community services. There are health and social service organizational booths.
The absence of General Vang Pao, who has appeared at nearly, if not all, of the annual sports tournaments, did not linger in the air this year as would be expected. He was arrested with nine others last month on charges of planning a military coup in Laos.
Although it was apparent in the eyes of many of the veterans who fought with their leader, the families and children were focused on sports and having a good time with each other for two splendid days.