WASHINGTON, D.C. — Out on the turf, little else matters, except where the ball is going next. That is the scene at DC XI, a youth soccer club in the nation's capital.
"We put in the work. We put in the hours, and yeah, we make it out there," said DC XI soccer player Jacob Maretich, 10.
In this soccer club, kids of all ages enjoy playing the beautiful game.
"You get a lot of freedom,” said Grant Gilliam, a 7-year-old DC XI player. "You can shoot and you can pass and they pass it back in like, there's cool things about it."
There's something else that's cool about it, though: the cost to play.
"It's essentially a trust model,” said DC XI co-founder and coach Michael Idiokitas. "You pay what you can afford."
Between fees, equipment, and traveling to games, the cost for kids to participate in team sports in America can quickly balloon to hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year.
According to the recent “State of Play” study from the Aspen Institute, the average family in America spends $883 per child each year on their primary sport. The average costs vary by team sport, with soccer ($1,188) more expensive on average than baseball ($714), basketball ($1,002) and football ($581).
Not at DC XI, though.
"Some parents are able to pay the full gamut, you know, for whatever the price is. Some parents are not or are able to pay a certain portion. And then, we work with those parents to help supplement the cost,” Idiokitas said.
The pay-what-you-can model took several years of careful financial planning by the club, including finding outside revenue streams, like grants and donations, sometimes from other families with kids playing in the club to make it a reality. Once they did, they never looked back.
"Many of us didn't have the financial means coming up, as you know, as young players,” Idiokitas said. “And so, we've been there. We've lived that life and so we understand that life fully."
Parents took note.
"It gives everybody an opportunity to learn, to be in a team," said parent Paty Capetillo Huber, whose son, Ivan, plays with the club. "And, yeah, if some of us cannot afford it or some of us can pay more, I'm happily, if able to do it, to give more opportunities to other families."
Some say eliminating the cost barrier to youth sports should be a priority, with help from professional leagues.
"I think it's a duty that they are missing out on," said Anthony Gilliam, whose son, Grant, plays with DC XI, "but it's also something that could be done to uplift some of these kids in this communities and I think there's some talent being missed out on, frankly."
Out on the pitch, the diversity at play now reaches across racial and ethnic lines to socio-economic ones, too.
"To me, I think it really is just indicative of the sport itself and bringing all these different backgrounds together," said parent Ethan Maretich, whose son, Jacob, plays in the club."To me, it's a great model going forward."
From those seeds that are planted, friendships blossom.
"We go out to play. We go to eat sometimes on the weekends," Jacob said. "Everybody on the team is my friend."
His teammates agree.
"You get a friend every time you go to practice," Grant said.
It is a place where everyone gets a fair shot.