Cleats of many nations now rooted in Georgia clay

Despite claims on the center’s website, this is not America’s most densely populated square mile—the honor likely goes to a section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with an estimated figure of 150,000. Yet small flats with extended families—we met one boy who is living with 11 family members—create densities well above the American norm. The town is among the nation’s most diverse. The influx of refugees since the 1980s has remade Clarkston’s housing, schools, businesses, foodways and places of worship (see Warren St. John, “The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts,” New York Times, 22 Sept 07).

Which brings us back to soccer.

Organizers of the MLK event said hundreds of schoolchildren were still isolated within apartments, even with the flush of publicity and cash for the locally based Fugees program—which, with corporate support, provides tutoring and manages four boys’ select refugee teams and a girls’ side. The Clarkston center aims its programming at both “long-standing residents and newcomers” to acknowledge the resentment that O’Kelley says refugees face from non-refugee residents in Clarkston. It has partnered with Decatur-DeKalb YMCA—historically an advocate for girls’ and minority soccer—the nearby International Community School and Atlanta-based Soccer in the Streets (10 Jul 07) to create and supervise a soccer park, where gridiron footballers once attacked the blocking sleds. O’Kelley says:

We’ve all been concerned about so many kids with so little to do in the community. I’ve got a soccer field. We’re all interested in promoting soccer—it’s an international sport. So the question has been, How can we make it happen? How can we make it so that it’s sustainable? You’ve got a low-income community. We don’t have a lot of soccer moms to make it happen so we need each other to try to figure this thing out.

Community tensions and language barriers add to cultural isolation. Kids who love soccer also encounter the bane of pickup soccer players across America: lack of open, non-dedicated play space and resistance in some quarters to creating and maintaining public pitches. The cultural barrier to soccer can come across in subtle ways. A newspaper article in 2007 poignantly described recently arrived families from Burma trying to juggle American footballs included in their resettlement packages (“Myanmar Refugees Find Freedom in Atlanta,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 24 Oct 07; not available online).

With manpower from nonprofit playground builder KaBoom!, the Clarkston center’s field in November was sodded with Bermuda grass. This followed years of the pitch being underused due to shortage of adult leadership—the would-be “soccer moms” in the area are all working. Although the grass was brown and the seams had not joined, kids on MLK Day raced about in a series of five-on-five matches and scrimmages.

Community celebrity Bill Clinton Hadam was playing, too. A 20-person team of Christian Science Monitor journalists, photographers, videographers, designers, researchers, translators and sub-editors, but mainly reporter Mary Wiltenburg, has been charting his school life and cultural adjustment since May 08. Born in the Congo not long after the U.S. Senate voted articles of impeachment against President Clinton in Feb 1999, Bill Clinton was named by his father, Hassan. According to the Monitor microsite, the name is to “remind him that even a big man can have big problems.”

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