More than 1,400 athletes from across the nation competed this weekend at McMurray Field in St. Paul for the 26th Hmong Minnesota International Annual Sports Tournament.
For the first time, 10 women’s teams competed for cash prizes alongside the 40 men’s teams.
Last year’s event drew an estimated 25,000 people on each day.
Kahoua Yang, vice president of the Lao Family Community of Minnesota and manager of the tournament, estimated this year’s crowd at 22,000 to 23,000 on both days.
Yang said the event is important because it gives the Hmong community a chance to celebrate its success in the United States
“It gives a chance for not only families to be united, but the community as a whole,” he said. “Family is very important to us, and this is a time to come together and help plan the future for the young.”
Jenny Xiong, vice president of the Hmong Student Association, said the gathering is the largest of its kind during the summer in the United States. She said the event continues to grow because of the influx of immigrants to the Twin Cities after the closing of the Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp last year in Thailand.
“The event is becoming larger with each passing year,” she said. “It gives the Hmong community, young and old, a chance to interact, and especially a chance for the younger people who can possibly find their significant other.”
Athletes squared off in the tournaments while thousands of others enjoyed concerts, a flea market and warm weather.
The event included several sports, with a soccer tournament being the centerpiece. But between the soccer fields and hordes of people, athletes competed in other sports, including badminton, flag football, tennis and the Asian sport of takro.
Takro, a mix of volleyball and soccer, uses a player’s head and feet to pass a ball over a 4-foot net.
Malia Lee, a University student fresh off her team’s soccer victory, said the most exciting thing about the event in recent years is the growing number of women participating in the sports tournaments.
“There are now women’s teams coming from all across the nation,” she said. “Aside from the tournaments themselves, it’s just exciting to check out all the booths and connect with the Hmong community.”
Yeng Moua, a University student participating in the flag football tournament for the third consecutive year, said the competition within the tournament is the best part of the event.
“The tournament is really intense, but off the field it’s great to see all the Hmong people from across the country come together and share interests,” he said.
Aside from sporting events, hundreds of vendors and food booths surrounded the playing fields, selling such items as traditional Hmong clothing and Spider-Man action figures.
Music blared while thousands of people strolled through the market checking out plants, paintings, toys and jewelry.
With more Hmong immigrating to the United States, the community has expanded across the nation, Xiong said. She said the tournament gave people an opportunity to have a good time and reconnect.