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Games with an international flavor Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jun 04 2011 12:00 PM

It's time to put on your international game face. This Saturday kicks off the fourth annual International Friendship Games in Chula Vista.

The city will host more than 1,500 young athletes from the Unites States, Mexico and Argentina who will compete in eight sports.

The event benefits youth and adults from both sides of the border, while strengthening friendship ties between the regions and providing a once in a lifetime experience for many athletes.

"It really is a celebration of the uniqueness of the region to have international competition like this." Chula Vista City Councilman Rudy Ramirez said.

The first games in 2008 brought 100 young athletes who competed in soccer and boxing at Chula Vista's Olympic Training Center.

This year the event has grown to include other sports including basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, swimming, robotics, and track and field, drawing athletes ages 12 to 18 from Chula Vista and northern Baja California.

This is also the second year the games will include a battle of the bands, which will feature 20 different types of "garage" bands.

The winner will receive a cash prize as well as professional studio time to help them produce a CD or single.

Ramirez said the event was an idea he had during his first year in office.

"I've always been tuned into the opportunities at the border," he said. "There are many challenges but also a tremendous amount of opportunity."

Since then the games have become Ramirez' signature event and something many people want to participate in.

"You don't have to twist any arms, people want to be a part of it," he said.

Ramirez is hoping for some 5,000 people to attend the games this year.

"The goal has always been to showcase the best of what Chula Vista has to offer," Ramirez said. "The athletes and facilities - people get to come here who have never been here."

Ramirez said that a primary goal of the city's economic development objective is to promote cross border business so that Chula Vista can become a central place for jobs.

"Chula Vista's geography in Southern California, as the busiest border crossing in the world, positions it to host the games and shows off one of the city's many strengths," Ramirez said. "It's such a huge industry in our region that it's a natural fit."

This is the first year the event will be held at Mater Dei High School and the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

The event is funded by community and corporate sponsors through public and private donations. Donations for this year's event total $25,000 and include referee fees, give-aways, food, transportation, insurance, trophies and the venue cost.

Israel Garza is the soccer events sports partner for the event, with the overall responsibility to coordinate the soccer teams since 2008.

"It's grown beyond just communication between the U.S. and Mexico teams," Garza said. "It's truly becoming an international friendship theme."

The event runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Soccer and beach volleyball games will be played at the training center and the rest of the sport competitions are held at Mater Dei High School.

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