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The wind whips across the soccer field, a burst of green in this old, industrial South Omaha neighborhood, and ponytails are flying.
It's a middle school girls matchup, Norris versus Marrs. Coaches, friends, siblings and parents — especially one exuberant, baseball-cap-wearing father — are hollering in two languages.
Almost all eyes are on what appears to be a fast-moving, exciting game.
Not watching is — wait. I'll tell you in a second.
First, let's cut away from the game. Let's go to a living room in Bellevue where two men sit.
One is an old South Omaha boy named Bob Campos. The other is movie and TV actor and director Tony Plana, who lives in New York.
The first made his name in construction. The second could be best-known for playing the father in the sitcom “Ugly Betty.” In a film opening in theaters today, an R-rated action-comedy called “Pain & Gain,” Plana plays the good cop, Capt. Lopez.
Both Campos and Plana share pulled-up-by-their-bootstraps stories and a drive to serve their communities.
Campos is the son of Mexican immigrants who worked at Omaha meatpacking plants.
He dropped out of South High, lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard, returned to work in construction, then struck out on his own with $500 and an old pickup.
He built Campos Construction into the state's largest minority-owned general contracting firm. He became active in a variety of city, Chamber of Commerce and community activities. He sponsored legions of American Legion baseball players over the years.
And that high school Campos left at age 16? South has put his name on a plaque in its Hall of Fame.
Plana was born in Cuba and came to the United States when he was 8, living with 13 relatives in a two-bedroom house.
But he graduated from Loyola Marymount University and attended London's Royal Academy.
Plana has acted in more than 60 films, directed two feature films and acted or directed in TV shows, including Showtime's “Resurrection Boulevard” and the ABC hit “Ugly Betty.” He also founded the East L.A. Classic Theatre, which provides outreach and uses adapted Shakespearean works to reach children with no access to theater.
The organization also uses theater as a way to help immigrant children get a better grasp of the English language.
Plana is such a big believer in efforts to help low-income children succeed that he decided to ditch all the Hollywood hoopla for the “Pain & Gain” opening and come to Omaha instead.
And to see Campos — Plana is a friend of Campos' nephew, Joe, a former Omahan who met Plana long ago and remains a friend.
And to get a tour of the city involving visits with South High students, Building Bright Futures leaders and Omaha police gang-unit members.
He also was scheduled to appear today at a certain cluster of soccer fields along South 33rd Street.
No longer will this oasis, tucked behind a Kwik Shop and near the old Armour meatpacking plant, be known as the “33rd and Q” fields.
Starting today, after Mayor Jim Suttle proclaims it, these lush, sprinkler-fed acres will be called the Bob Campos Soccer Complex.
Here's why. Just as Campos Construction was ending its 23-year run in 2000, Bob Campos was trying to find space to plant soccer fields in South Omaha. It seemed as if there was nowhere for neighborhood kids and school teams to play, and a rising tide of young would-be immigrant soccer players was on the horizon.
Campos eyed the vacant seven acres on South 33rd, but nearby Metropolitan Community College also wanted it. A little horse-trading and politicking put the land in city hands, and Mayor Mike Fahey agreed to lease it to Campos for five-year terms.
The land was a dump. Literally. It was filled with old cattle holding pens, concrete and other debris.
Campos raised $200,000 privately and the city kicked in about $10,000 to clean it up, raise the elevation, grade it, sod it and install sprinklers.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
Campos expanded the property, tearing out old trees and junk. He then managed it and policed it himself.
Now, after about 10 years, the city will take over. The Latino Peace Officers Association, which runs a soccer program for some 600 kids, will help manage the fields, which will bear Campos' name.
This week, I visited the fields. Here was Karla Pinto, 14, a blur in a red Norris jersey. Here were her sisters Johanna, who is about to graduate from Bryan High, and Magdalena, a fifth-grader at Bancroft, rooting on their sister.
Here was her baseball-cap-wearing father, Pedro Pinto, who works in meatpacking and who has played soccer for club teams in Mexico and the United States, blowing out his right knee so many times he's had three knee-replacement surgeries and he's not yet 50.
Soccer isn't just a sport to him. It's practically a religion.
“It's like tradition — it's like something sentimental,” he tries to explain, neck craned to watch a penalty shot.
“C'mon, goalkeeper!” he shouts to Karla's teammate.
The only member of the Pinto family not watching the drama on the field was 2-year-old Dayanna.
She kicked a soccer ball to her mother, Amparo. Then she kicked the ball to me, saying something in Spanish.
“And do you play soccer?” I asked.
“Sí!” she squealed.
Maybe in coming years she actually will, right here at the Bob Campos Soccer Complex.
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