A Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USA Football ambassador chronicles his trip to Panama.

My role as a Heads Up Football Ambassador provides me the opportunity to travel and get out into communities to see the next generation of football stars.

This past weekend, I traveled to Panama to visit a local football league there. The league was having its championship game for boys as well as a girls all-star flag football game. It was an unbelievable experience.

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Kiwani Owls players taking the field

Football is America’s sport. It is the game many of us watch and play growing up. We all know about the fan base and passion for football here in the states, but I was unaware of how popular the sport is in Panama. And it’s not just Panama. It’s all of Latin America.

The sport has been growing at a rapid rate throughout the region – Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Chile and Brazil among others. In all, there are 18 nationals in Central and South America that have national federations dedicated to the sport and are members of the International Federation of American Football.

The league I had a chance to watch is the Kiwanis American Football League Panama, a nonprofit with most of any revenue going back into the community and to charity.

The league is led by Raul Mendez as president and Aaron Medina as director. As is common with U.S. youth organizations, members of the staff, including Raul and Aaron, have regular full-time jobs, but they volunteer their time and effort to work with the kids.

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David Ardito-Barletta receiving MVP award

While spending the bulk of the weekend with Aaron as he showed me the sites of Panama, including the Panama Canal, we talked a lot of football. The main topic was the Kiwanis league and growth opportunities. The league includes six clubs, each with a boys tackle football team and a girls flag football team. The teams use the same equipment we have in the United States, and coaches are passionate about the game and the players. More than 100 of them have taken and passed USA Football’s Level 1 online certification.

During game times, I saw firsthand what this league has to offer. The stadium had a great view of mountains along with incoming airplanes and palm trees everywhere. Fans dress up in their favorite teams’ colors and are as passionate a fan base anywhere.

About 600 fans came out to support the kids. They got loud and really into the game from start to finish. It reminded me of a college game day atmosphere. The league has a medic and a doctor on the sidelines and game officials who did great. Sponsor signs line the stadium, including ones for USA Football and the NFL.

Football is important to this community, and the potential for growth is there. In fact, the game was nationally televised, and there was a good media presence there to report on the action. I got the chance to appear on TV and hand out well-deserved trophies to players.

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Peter Macias and Aaron Medina addressing the crowd

The game itself was competitive and entertaining. Every athlete played with passion and pride for their teams. Once the game was over and the championship was won, fireworks filled the night sky, and confetti rained down on everyone. It was a great to watch and be a part of.

In my role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and as a Heads Up Football Ambassador, it’s amazing to see another generation of football players grow up in the United States. It’s even more incredible to witness this in another country.

From the fans to the coaches to the players, football is immensely popular in Panama. I look forward to watching this league grow along with the rest of the international clubs.

American football is truly global.

Link to original article.

Pete Macias is a USA Football Ambassador, Assistant Master Trainer and Copywriter. He also worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is on the Advisory Board of the NFL Alumni Tampa chapter. Pete is also Director of Operations for Yoga for Men, and is