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Soccer for socialists in Duluth spawns "Commie Soccer"
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Adam Ritscher tries to get the ball past Andy Olson in a game of Commie Soccer. Young socialists in Duluth get together for soccer once a week. Usually five or six players show up. Some evenings, only two. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)
Socialists need exercise, too. It's a lot of work to smash capitalism, but it doesn't do much for the lungs or the legs. So a bunch of young socialists in Duluth get together to kick around a soccer ball. They call it, "Commie Soccer."

Duluth, Minn. — Over in a forgotten corner of a Duluth city park, behind a screen of trees, there's a gravelly little field surrounded by a chain-link fence. Here's where the commies play soccer.

They get together once a week. Sometimes five or six people show up. Sometimes 10. And some nights just two.

"Just coincidentally I'm a socialist who needs to get some exercise in," says Adam Ritscher. "This fits both bills quite nicely."

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Image Kickoff

Ritscher is one team tonight. He's in the red T-shirt. Ritscher is a clean-cut twenty-something; you could mistake him for a College Republican, but he's a regular at anti-war protests and picket lines in Duluth. He's an organizer with the local chapter of Youth for Socialist Action.

The other team is Andy Olson, in the grey T-shirt. Olson is a socialist and a vegan, but he's working his way through college making burgers at Wendy's. Earlier this summer, Olson and some other activists were at a gay rights rally, and that's where he cooked up the idea for Commie Soccer.

"Certainly anybody's welcome," Olson says. "We've had anarchists and probably Greens. It's not where we sit down and discuss hard-nosed politics, exactly, but we like to have something to get us together just to get to know each other."

The anarchists have challenged us to play sometime, but they don't actually have a team that's coalesced yet.
- Youth for Socialist Action organizer Adam Ritscher

To some people, Commie Soccer might look like a sneaky way to lure young folks into socialism.

"You know, if it is, it's not working that well," Olson says.

Socialists have a long history of putting together workers' athletic associations.

The soccer games in Duluth are part of the local Commie Sporting League. Over the years, members of the league have tried their hands at basketball, boxing and target-shooting. But this summer, soccer is the sport of choice.

Andy Olson is tall and lanky, and he has some smooth moves on the soccer field, but Adam Ritscher is a dogged opponent. At one point, Ritscher dives to the ground and blocks a shot with his chest, and the ball bounces off him so hard it rolls all the way back into Andy Olson's goal.

Olson looks a little startled.

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Image Andy Olson has some moves

"You OK?," Ritscher asks him.

"Am I OK?" Olson says as trots after the ball. "You're the one who's on the ground."

In spite of the extra effort, Adam Ritscher is behind by a couple goals. An outsider would count the score as 6-4, but in Commie Soccer the teams usually share the goals equally.

Andy Olson brings the ball to midfield and announces the score is 5-5.

In Commie Soccer, the rules are flexible.

"Every week they're different," Ritscher says. "We often have five people playing two or something like that just to make it fair. You know, some weeks there's no out of bounds. Other weeks we're very much sticklers about the rules for whatever reason."

The rules are decided by a vote, and sometimes they change several times during the course of a game.

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Image Cornered

"It reflects the will of the masses," Ritscher says.

There is talk of taking Commie Soccer to the next level. Ritscher and Olson are thinking of forming a real team.

"The anarchists have challenged us to play sometime," Ritscher says, "but they don't actually have a team that's coalesced yet. We're thinking about maybe challenging the Green Party, kind of have a classic far-left fight here, but they don't have a team yet either. We seem to be the only activist soccer team on the block so far."

They might have to look beyond other leftists to get a game. Andy Olson has had informal talks with some soccer players of the right.

"I do know some College Republicans," Olson says. "I actually think that they would be receptive to the idea. I guess the only thing I want to make sure, is that it doesn't end up in some kind of grudge match, of course."

Olson blasts a kick from midfield and the ball flies over the fence and into the woods. It takes Olson and Ritscher five minutes to find the ball. They enjoy the breather. When only two players show up, the game is extra tiring. They just started, and they are already streaked with sweat.

They usually play for a couple hours, until the score is about 30-30.

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