JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
I read an article about the Boston's Pop Warner "urban suburban" American football league collapsed because the parents of the suburban 7- to 14-year-olds said that the urban kids played too rough. And urban playing fields were "unsafe". And that the urban kids played "intimidating" rap music. The League director Al Perillo told the Boston Globe that white middle-class parents have been scared off by TV news reports of drive-by shootings. But they're also sick "getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston".
That said, the segregation of U.S. cities still shocks. And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in soccer in the U.S. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working-class, African-Americans have been excluded from America's grassroots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that soccer is predominately a white sport.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, African-American kids reacted with disbelief when a teacher told them about her brother-in-law, black U.S. defender Eddie Pope. They were reportedly "stunned" when Pope sent them an autographed poster.
When I moved in a small town outside of inner-city Washington, D.C., I enthusiastically set about starting a soccer program. "Even after weeks of posters, PA announcements in some of the schools in the area and word-of-mouth advertising, I still had didn’t have enough players to fill the roster. It was the first soccer team in the area in many years and the lack of interest shattered my world paradigm. I was warned: “kids don't play soccer in the ghetto. Just football, basketball, track.”
But others have succeeded. Steve Bandura runs the Anderson Monarchs youth soccer team in inner-city Philadelphia. He shows the kids footage of Pelé and other black players “making the point that most of the world's footballers look like them”. And every winter he gives his young players the option to switch to basketball until the new soccer season starts. And every year - without fail - the kids choose indoor soccer instead. Every other team in the Monarchs' league is predominantly white. And most years the Monarchs win everything in sight. There is only one other non-school African-American team in Philadelphia, a city that is 40% black.
"The reason is," says Steve, "that there just aren't soccer programs being run in African-American neighborhoods. If there were then what we do here would be repeated many times." Sound like a great idea to me.