Cleats of many nations now rooted in Georgia clay

Released from apartments in this refugee resettlement zone outside Atlanta, some 75 children participated in the Jan 19 tournament on a recently resodded field. Go to more images » (© 2009 Maggie Lee | Clarkston Community Center)

Clarkston, Georgia | The Martin Luther King Day soccer tournament at Clarkston Community Center afforded easy parking—a privilege rarely possible at suburban soccer confabs once idling fleets of vans and four-wheel drives have set up base camp.

The streets of Clarkston, 11 miles outside Atlanta along a commercial railway spur, are blissfully quiet on the Jan 19 holiday. Yet even on this federally authorized day off, groups of dark faces stand at bus stops, staring forlornly at the horizon on their way to jobs around the metro area.

Atlanta, largely through efforts of a suburban YMCA and the evangelism of a North American Soccer League team, the Atlanta Chiefs (see 4 Oct 08), in the 1960s played a leading role developing soccer as American suburbia’s sport of choice. The region now offers hundreds of ethnically based leagues, primarily of Latino players, but also a melding of nationalities as in Clarkston (25 Jul 07). As recently as 30 years ago, white people accounted for 90 percent of Clarkston’s population; as of the 2000 census, the figure was 19 percent (25 Jan 07).

The change is evident when walking with community center executive director John O’Kelley through a beautifully refurbished high school that served as rallying point when the center began as a grassroots movement in 1994. Once scheduled for demolition, the building, constructed in the 1920s, features a renovated auditorium with cathedral ceiling, decorated in mid-January for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

On video loop in the entry hallway are black-and-white scans from old high school yearbooks, including white gridiron football players in flattop haircuts looking as if they might be considering a bottle of pop at the corner store after the game. Down the hall sit two women—O’Kelley is not sure if they are from Burma or Bhutan—knitting in dull winter light. In a nearby sewing room a volunteer works amid splashes of fabric with several refugee women from Africa.

YouTube video

Abdirahmam Osman of Somalia touts the benefits of pre-tournament Frosted Flakes™ and demonstrates that he is plugged in to developments in public relations. The sugar-saturated Kellogg’s product the following week announced a field-renovation project; nominations of soccer and other facilities are accepted through Mar 31. (8:39)

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