STATEN ISLAND, NY — ALL SHORES — While the men in blue fight to maintain their lead on the Greenbelt Recreation Center soccer field, 5-year-old Dorian Papraniku of Prince’s Bay kicks a size three ball along the sideline.
Korabi Bears team stopper Beck Papraniku hopes his son will grow up to join the Korabi team, a cousin of a club with the same name that plays in Debar, Macedonia.
For first- and second-generation Albanians and Macedonians, whose families emigrated from the Balkan region and settled in Staten Island by the thousands in the 1990s, the Korabi soccer team is both a recreational outlet and a way of maintaining a cultural identity.
Coach Rusty Papraniku brought his 13-year-old son, Eli, on the team’s trip to Europe last year, giving him an opportunity to learn Albanian, a language he understands but doesn’t speak.
“It keeps our people together,” said the coach. “We’re keeping the Albanian community going, because if it wasn’t for soccer, we might never see each other outside of weddings. And kids will grow up and forget about their Albanian culture.”
Korabi is in fact a broadly multi-cultural team, with players from Germany, Egypt, Iran, Liberia and Ecuador, among other countries.
“We’re trying to hold on to our culture, but at the same time, keep the door open,” said Papraniku.
But with core Balkan players and ties to Korabi — Debar, the Macedonian club that shares a Web site with its American cousin — team Korabi provides a common ground for Staten Island’s sizable Albanian population.
Local Albanian-owned businesses sponsor the team, which plays with the Spanish-American and New York State’s Cosmopolitan soccer leagues.
A donation of a team van, scheduled to arrive this week from Dema’s Auto Center in Stapleton, will allow Korabi to bring in more young players. New junior teams for teen-agers will be added to the Korabi schedule when next year’s season begins in September 2010. Korabi teams include the Bears, the boys’ Cubs team, a women’s Freedom team, and a Veterans team of men over 40 who play in friendly matches in New Jersey. The teams practice every Tuesday at the Victory Sports Club in Castleton Corners.
On Oct. 4, the Korabi team lost to Mr. Dennehey’s FC (Football Club). They stand three points behind the team leading their Metro 1 East division, VV Nieuw Amsterdam.
Tevah Platt covers the North and East shores for the Advance. She may be reached at email@example.com.