Playing a ‘cascarita’ with words

This post appeared on my earlier website, The Global Game: Soccer as a Second Language (2003-2010), on January 6, 2009, and helps explain how I made the transition, over ten years, from freelancer on world football to, today, an English as a Second Language specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. (Photo credit: Ron Mader, “Cascarita de Fut,” Chapultepec Park, México City, uploaded October 27, 2007,

Editor’s note

The writing samples below, with one exception, come from the English as a Second Language program at Nimitz High School in Irving, Texas. The class is taught by native Russian Irina Marchenko, who has 25 years’ experience teaching English both abroad and in Texas secondary schools.

In engaging her students, Marchenko uses soccer, a game that took hold in Texas under influence of the Dallas Tornado of the 1960s. Now, the Dallas Cup, a youth tournament that started in 1980 and has attracted participants such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Raúl and Edmilson, each spring draws entries from every FIFA confederation.

Marchenko can also tap into Russian literary attachments to football. She directs the curious to the poetry of Osip Mandelstam as one example. In several poems on sporting themes published before the 1917 revolution, the 1937 victim of Stalin-era purges transfers, almost haikai-like, the memory of seeing children playing football on Vasilievskii Island in Saint Petersburg to the page:

Heavy morning-fog fades,
day walks in barefooted,
and little boys play football
in the military school-yard.

From “Vtoroi futbol” (Football again), 1914

Yury Olesha of Odessa, now part of Ukraine, in No Day without a Line (1965) exudes enthusiasm for what, in the late 19th century, was a new game. Like Mandelstam, Vladimir Nabokov’s youth was influenced by the “soccer-crazed” Tenishev School in Saint Petersburg. During his tenure Nabokov played in goal; Mandelstam, younger and smaller than his peers, watched from a distance. Nabokov in Speak, Memory includes recollections of football at Cambridge and inserts footballers into narrative in Glory, Pale Fire (Andronnikov and Niagarin have a cameo as “Sovietchiks” who like the odd kickabout) and Pnin. In the latter, Mr. Pnin tries to buy a soccer ball from an American sales clerk. But he receives an American football instead: “ ‘No, no,’ said Pnin, ‘I do not wish an egg or, for example, a torpedo. I want a simple football ball. Round!’ ”

This diversion into Russian and Russian expatriate literature helps show the potential for a relationship between sport and writing. Or perhaps writing is, or should be, more like unrestricted play: that is, free, outside the ordinary, detached. Mandelstam in his work often links sport and creativity, according to critic Timothy Harte.

The connection that Marchenko and her students make between creative writing and soccer falls into this tradition. Others, too, follow the example. The America Scores program brings soccer and poetry into elementary schools nationwide. The Intensive Language Center at Henry Moss Middle School in Bowling Green, Kentucky, takes a multicultural focus. Kim Bowman, who runs the center, watches students from Burma, Burundi, Jordan, Yemen and Thailand integrate American footballs and soccer balls into improvised games in the gymnasium (Joanie Baker, “Language Center Has New Leader,” Bowling Green Daily News, 31 Dec 08).

Similarly, writers make up games with words. It seems appropriate that one of Marchenko’s students mentions the cascarita, an improvisational form of soccer that occurs in available space with the equipment and personnel at hand.

We encourage teachers who might use The Global Game: Writers on Soccer with their students to invent cascarita-inspired writing games. Marchenko envisions having students trying to duplicate the skills described in Christopher Merrill’s “Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” (chap. 14). Or, one might juggle with a friend to the rhythms of “Football Is” (chap. 54) by Crispin Thomas. For many years Thomas has brought football-inspired performance poetry into British prisons, libraries and schools. The Football Poets website with which he is affiliated contains hundreds of poems from students 10 to 16.


Timothy C. Harte, “Game, Set, Stanza: Modern Sport in Russia and the Poetry of Osip Mandel’shtam,” The Russian Review 59 (July 2000): 353–70; David H. J. Larmour, “Getting One Past the Goalkeeper: Sports and Games in Glory,” in Discourse and Ideology in Nabokov’s Prose, ed. David H. J. Larmour, Studies in Russian and European Literature 7 (London: Routledge, 2002), 59–73.

A cascarita might take place anywhere, in the narrow aisles of a shopping center or at the beach. “The cascarita,” writes Paul Cuadros in A Home on the Field, about his state soccer champions from Siler City, North Carolina, “had taught the team to play a tight ball-controlled game with good touches, flicks, and passing. That was the good thing about the cascarita.” (1:54)

My first soccer ball

When my dad buy me the soccer ball I was so happy because everybody has one and I didn’t and that’s why I was so happy I was showing the ball to everybody and then I practice with my friends in the school and I brought my soccer ball with me so we can play in the school we play and we won 3 to 0 in the afternoon I was playing but then something happen terrible somebody kick the soccer ball to a house but my dad saw him and tell him that he had to pay or get it out from the house and he did get the soccer ball from the house when you was 10 years old I was kicking the ball very hard and hit my friends with the ball he cry but I told him that I’m sorry “I didn’t see you,” then he kick my stomach and run then call my friend to play soccer and we play a cascarita and we won the game finish so late that when we finish I went to bed and that’s why it’s my precious possession.

Playing soccer and never using drugs

“Don’t use that!” I will never forget when José told me that one Saturday night when I was 12 years old in Mexico City. I realized I needed to play soccer to have a good future.

One day in the street, I saw people using drugs and I had many questions in my head. How does it smell? How can that change my life? What’s wrong with it? The question I had a long time ago is how can they see something that other people can’t see? Why do they say they are like superman or something? One night a guy offered me drugs. I went to the guy to use the drugs. He asked if he could give me some marijuana or something. José saw me called me over to him then told me if I wanted to use that I would never get out of it. He told me to try other things to do and asked if I like soccer or any sports.

I thought about what José told me, and I started playing soccer in the street with my friends. The guy who offered me the drugs yelled, “Hey Ricardo! Come here!” I said, “Hell no!” They looked at me like I said a bad word. On the next day I was playing in the street and my brother said, “You are good. You play very well. Go to the park and find the team.” On the next Sunday I went to the park and saw too many teams. One coach asked me if I want to play. I said yes. He asked too many questions and I answered them. “Okay, come tomorrow, Monday, to the practice at 6 p.m.,” he said. I went to the practice and saw my new team. My first game was on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. The name of my team was Guerreros like “warrior.” I played forward, and I made my first goal on that team. The coach asked me what number I would like. I thought and said, “Number 13, Sir!” He gave me a free uniform. (by Ricardo Medina)

I love my shoes

I remember when my mom gave me my shoes they are very important to me because they are my favorite shoes, I was happy because they cost a lot of money they are called cleats because they are my life and … my mom pay $100 and I love my mom because she gave me the best cleats and when I put on my shoes for the soccer game I score four goals with the new shoes I said all the score is for my mom because she buy me the best shoes in the state and the coach said told me he liked the shoes because ronaldinho uses the shoes I love my shoes …

What everyone should know about me

Soccer I play soccer for Nimitz High School and for the Irving Tigers, so who cares if I am popular. My favorite class is English because I think that is easy for me to understand. I was born in Mexico and I love Mexican food, but I also like American food like pizza. I like to help my parents in any way because they help me too. My goal is to finish high school and go to college to become an electro mechanic.

My poem

Game player
I play soccer
Long time
Best player in soccer
The best

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