Hector Hernandez, left, and Hsoon Dobi, are friendly rivals in support of their team watching the Brazil-Mexico World Cup match in Clearwater.
CLEARWATER – A touch of Mexico and Brazil came to the campus of St. Petersburg College in Clearwater on June 17. The college organized a viewing party for the Brazil vs. Mexico World Cup match, and dozens of people showed up. They were dressed in the colors of their team and cheered loudly throughout the match, which ended in a 0-0 draw. It was considered a victory for Mexico, the definite underdogs going into the game. The majority of fans at the event were cheering for Mexico, and none of them were disappointed with the draw.
Also not disappointed with the event was Joe Benavides, a student activities director with the college. It was his idea to hold the event in the first place.
“I don’t want to take all the credit,” he said. “It was my idea, but I needed the approval of the provost and other administrators. I’ve been working on putting this together for the past eight weeks.”
The purpose of the event, according to Benavides, was to raise community awareness about the college and to perhaps attract students from the Hispanic population to St. Pete College.
“Our demographic here in Clearwater is definitely Hispanic,” he said. “We want to create awareness about the college in the community. This gives us a chance to have people check us out and find a way they might better themselves.”
The activity at the event began well before game time. There was plenty of free food on hand – food that represented the competing countries. As well, all over the building were participants from the community showing off their wares. There were representatives from the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. Several local businesses set up booths to show prospective students what might be in store for them after graduation. There was also a representative from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the area’s only professional soccer team. Sid Jibrael was handing out information, hoping to attract some attention and new fans for his club.
“This is a good event; people are showing enthusiasm and curiosity,” he said. “Many people are reminiscing about the old days and the early days of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and their star player back in the mid-70s, Rodney Marsh.”
Jibrael said the World Cup is sure to attract attention to soccer wherever it is played and he hopes it will focus on Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg where the Rowdies play.
“A lot of students and faculty members as well as neighbors have talked to me today,” he said. “I’ve been telling them … that there is a new and exciting era of soccer in Tampa Bay and everyone is invited to be part of it.”
For this day, however, the excitement was in front of several giant TV screens set up for the Brazil-Mexico match. There was no shortage of fans from either side.
Hector Hernandez, decked out in a Mexico jersey, was a diehard supporter of his team.
“I’m from Mexico and I have to support my home country,” he said. “This is a good event to bring the community together, and having fans from both teams here makes it all that much more exciting.”
That sentiment was echoed by Hsoon Dobi who was also decked out in a jersey, this one representing Brazil.
“This is good to get people together,” he said. “This will help get people interested in the game and get them to watch the rest of the matches.”
As for bringing people in to sell them on the benefits of furthering their education at St. Petersburg College, both men agree it would help.
“I would definitely recommend this college,” said Hernandez. “This is a good place to study, you get lots of help here and look around and there is a very diverse group here.”
Words like that are music to the ears of organizer Benavides, who admits the college has to get more proactive in attracting students from the community.
“There hasn’t been as good a connection as there might have been,” he said. “Now we’re reaching out into the community. We have a lot of international students here; we’re creating the international relationship that we really want.”
As for the event itself, Benavides says it was a success from the start.
“I’m very pleased, just look around, there isn’t an empty seat in the place,” he said with a smile.