The Los Angeles Film and Entertainment Soccer Tournament (LAFEST), in partnership with The Mia Hamm Foundation and Grassroot Soccer, this weekend kicked off its first annual celebrity soccer charity event at the Home Depot Center, with the team from Sony Pictures Classics emerging as the winner of the industry portion of the tournament.
LAFEST co-founders and soccer enthusiasts Dylan Leiner and Jeffrey Saunders hosted the event alongside sports-industry power couple Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra and Grassroot Soccer founder Ethan Zohn to raise money for bone marrow and HIV awareness charities. The Hollywood Reporter served as media sponsor.
“What we did is sort of bring an entertainment component to it, and we put together an event that was a five-on-five entertainment soccer tournament where we had 40 different teams from the studios, the agencies, production companies, law firms, there was a youth showcase, a youth...tournament, and the whole day caps off with the big Mia and Nomar Challenge,” said Leiner.
The all-day event featured a youth and industry tournament that brought together such companies as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, IMDb, BAFTA Los Angeles and reality-show celebrities from The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Amazing Race and Survivor.
Each team was guaranteed three games, and those who rose to the occasion moved on to single elimination playoff rounds. In the end, it was Sony Pictures Classics that took home the trophy, along with bragging rights.
LAFEST concluded with Hamm and Garciaparra’s 4th Celebrity Soccer Challenge, which included such athletes and celebrities as Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Chris Harrison, Jimmy Conrad, Jay Fella, Indi Cowie, Lauren Cheney, Cobi Jones, Rebecca Soni, Clark Gregg, Anthony Lapaglia, Ben Lyons, Mike Medavoy, Demian Bichir and Eric Wynalda.
Even Miss USA Nana Meriwether and Miss Universe Olivia Culpo traded in their sashes and tiaras for cleats and shinguards. When THR asked Culpo about her background in soccer, she jokingly answered: “I’ve never played soccer before. I just so happen to be playing against Miss USA, who’s playing on the Mia Hamm Foundation team, and she’s an All-American volleyball player, so moral of the story is...It will be a fun day.”
Hamm’s team, FC Mia, and Garciaparra’s team, Nomar United, displayed much hustle during the first half of the game, leaving fans at the edge of their seats. With shots deflecting off the goalpost and goalies diving on the rubber tiles for gut-wrenching saves, the teams ended the half tied at 6-6.
During halftime, Hamm and Garciaparra took center stage and reminded everyone about The Mia Hamm Foundation by sharing success stories and reuniting bone marrow donors and their recipients for the first time. “This is the most important part of the day," Hamm said. "So if one of you happens to be called to become a potential donor, say yes. Please, say yes ... We throw around the word ‘heroes’ all the time, but today you have true heroes, both on the giving and receiving end."
U.S. Soccer 2012 Female Athlete of the Year Morgan added: “Today I am here helping Mia Hamm and her foundation out and playing in this charity match, but really what it’s all about is the halftime show and seeing the bone-marrow transplant donors and their recipients finding and meeting each other for the first time.”
After half-time, players entered for the final 30 minutes of competitive soccer. In the end, it was FC Mia that took home the trophy, with a final score of 12-8.
Zohn concluded: “I think everyone out here today, you’re either a soccer player or a movie star or music person. They have recognition, and they can use their celebrity to go out there and create change in the world. I think that’s what it’s all about. They’re using the sport that they love to give back.”