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New Orleans Saints host Hispanic flag football cultural exchange

By Annie Hills

The New Orleans Saints hosted the NFL Mexico Tochito champion team, Coahulia, for a weekend of New Orleans culture and the team played during halftime of the Saints vs. Patriots game on Saturday, Aug. 22 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Tochito Champions are a team of 11- and 12-year old boys and girls from Coahulia. The team won the National Championship Tournament in March and was rewarded with a trip to New Orleans to play the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team during halftime of the Saints first home preseason game as a part of USA Football Month.

The New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team is a team put together by Adriel Rocha, youth programs coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. Rocha coordinates and activates Saints Gatorade Junior Training Camps throughout the Greater New Orleans region. Rocha relates well to many of the children on the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team because he grew up in a Hispanic home in nearby Gulfport, Miss. Through this program, Rocha has been able to entice Hispanic children to play football and become excited about the sport. With the help of Academy Sports + Outdoors, the Official Saints Youth Programs Sponsor, the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team is outfitted with Nike cleats, shorts and socks.

 "We wanted to not only expose these children to the game of football, but we also wanted to reward them with the opportunity to play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome," Rocha said.

The Saints involvement with the Hispanic Youth is greatly due to the growing Hispanic population in the Greater New Orleans area. New Orleans has become one of the fastest growing cities for Latino migrants in the United States and simultaneously NFL fans in Mexico have grown 366 percent from 2007 until today. Football is now the most popular sport in Mexico behind soccer.

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, NFL Mexico Marketing representatives arrived in New Orleans and enjoyed some of Louisiana's finest cuisine at Emeril's restaurant alongside Rocha. On Thursday the Tochito team arrived in New Orleans and had dinner at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood in the French Quarter.

In celebration of USA Football Month, the New Orleans Saints and Rocha introduced the Tochito team to J.C. Ellis Elementary School students in Metairie on Friday, Aug. 21. Five students from J.C. Ellis Elementary School also compete on the NFL FLAG Hispanic Team in New Orleans.

Following the school event, the Saints went with the Tochito team to Academy Sports + Outdoors where they were surprised with a $100 shopping spree. The team then traveled to the Audubon Zoo and Cool Zoo before stopping for treats at Yogurtland.

"We love kids and sports. I guess the way we look at it is that it doesn't matter where you're from, sport unites us all in some form or fashion - look at the World Cup," said Jennifer Kirby, regional marketing manager – Louisiana for Academy.

Jesús Alvarez, who handles social responsibility and events for NFL Mexico, attended all of the weekend events.

"It's the first time that the kids have been able to do something like this," Alvarez said. "It's awesome for the kids to receive a (Academy Sports + Outdoors) card and be able to buy the stuff that they want to buy – it's incredible."

Saturday was the day the Tochito team looked forward to the most – game day. Both the Tochito team and the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team had Raising Cane's for lunch in the Saints team cafeteria before their tour of the Saints indoor practice facility. American Luxury Limousines then shuttled the teams to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The NFL Mexico Tochito champion team and the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team scrimmaged during pregame, stood in front of the Saints and Patriots during the national anthem and the two teams competed against each other during halftime.

Photos of the NFL Mexico Tochito champion team and the New Orleans Hispanic Youth Team. Photos by Michael C. Hebert, Adriel Rocha and Annie Hills.

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