Ten years ago, Carolyn McKenzie quit her job and founded Soccer In the Streets, a program to bring soccer and educational opportunities to children living in public housing and other low income neighborhoods. She reasoned that soccer participation could strengthen young people's confidence and health while offering an alternative to drugs and crime. Her leadership and energy have brought the Soccer in the Streets program to over 75 cities, where more than 100,000 youngsters have participated.
To talk even briefly with McKenzie is to realize that she is passionate about bringing chances for a better life to young people. Her latest undertaking is "to introduce the world's number one sport to minority females who live in urban communities." Until now, only 30% of the Soccer in the Streets participants have been girls, usually playing on teams with boys. With the new Urban Soccer Girl project, Soccer in the Streets plans to reach out to inner city girls, offering access to coaching clinics, soccer fields and all-girls' teams - which could eventually lead to higher level competition and scholarships to soccer camps or even colleges.
Sponsored by adidas and CocaCola USA, the Urban Soccer Girl Program will be launched in Atlanta and the seven WWC '99 venues: New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Starting in May, an Urban Soccer Girl Kick-Off event, open to the public, will showcase the 100 girls ages 9 - 11 expected to be preregistered in each city. Soccer in the Streets will collaborate with local Y's, police leagues and other community groups to enroll eligible girls. Then coaches will run five basic skills clinics, the girls will play on Urban Soccer Girl teams, and a squad from each city will go to Los Angeles to compete in an Urban Soccer Girl Tournament on July 9th.
McKenzie knows first-hand what it is like to be left out of programs due to lack of funds, and has devoted herself to making activities available to children growing up in low income neighborhoods. All too often, going to a soccer clinic or camp is an option limited to middle class kids, because of the expense. The Urban Soccer Girl Program will offer that opportunity to hundreds of girls this summer. Soccer in the Streets has worked with colleges and other groups to develop mini-camp programs and obtain scholarships for day and residential camps for talented players, and the affiliated Urban Soccer Girl Program will be able to take advantage of these connections.
In addition to the program's main sponsors, McKenzie has lined up support from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher and the Smoke Free Kids Program, the Center for Disease Control, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Boys' and Girls' Clubs, and local Housing Authorites. What she needs now are volunteers to staff the program in each city: organizers, photographers, refreshment servers, coaches for the clinics, people willing to help with registration and handing out t-shirts. U.S. National U-20 Coach Lauren Gregg is already lending her support to the program. Call Jill Robbins, Urban Soccer Girl National Program Manager, at 770/447-0354, if you are willing to give of your time so that more girls can play.
© Women's Soccer World March/April
Smoke-Free Kids and Soccer
As a public service, the U.S. Women's National Team members participate in Smoke-Free Kids, a national public health campaign. Their message? Play soccer, live a healthy lifestyle - and don't smoke.
"U. S. Team Co-Captains Carla
Overbeck and Julie Foudy
join Secretary Shalala as she unveils the
new Smoke-Free Kids poster"
Under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Smoke-Free Kids features a web site (http://www.smokefree.gov), television ads, and a series of posters, all aimed at
improving the health of the nation's girls by encouraging their participation in sports. Members of the U.S. National Team have made numerous appearances on behalf of the program, seeing it as a way they can positively influence young fans. Smoke-Free Kids posters featuring U.S. Team members have been distributed at games and events featuring the National Team, and are wildly popular with young fans.
The latest poster in the Smoke-Free Kids series was unveiled by Secretary Shalala as part of the Washington event honoring women's soccer. The striking new poster, featuring U.S. midfielder Kristine Lilly, bears the motto "U.S. Women Rule with Fire not Smoke." Secretary Shalala said that the poster was provided by the National Cancer Institute as part of its effort to encourage more girls to play soccer and avoid the risk of smoking. The poster, as well as informative Smoke-Free Kids brochures, are available to U.S. residents through the web site or can be ordered by mail or fax from:
National Cancer Institute
c/o MasiMax Resources, Inc.
1700 Research Boulevard, Suite 301
Rockville, MD 20850
The Smoke-Free Kids program was instigated because girls who participate in sports generally have fewer health problems and better psychological adjustment, and being a good athlete is not compatible with smoking. The web site includes tips for parents on how to keep their daughters interested in and participating in sports. Also, those who complete a short on-line quiz about tobacco can download a screensaver with pictures of the U.S. Team playing in the 1996 Olympics.
United Soccer Federation of Maine, Soccer in the Streets of Jonesboro, Georgia, and groups in California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina are launching their own activities to help promote the smoke-free message and build support for the Women's World Cup. College and club teams are also encouraged to actively join the Smoke-Free campaign. Contact Smoke-Free Kids or your local and state health departments and soccer groups to find out what's happening in your community.
Get involved now!
© Women's Soccer World November/December
The Girls are REALLY into it -
A Look at Richmond Inner City Soccer
By Judith Phillips Rogers
The growth of girls' and women's soccer opportunities in the U.S. has been phenomenal in the past ten years, but most of the interest and opportunity has been for middle class youths living in fairly affluent suburbs. Several groups committed both to the growth of soccer and to the idea of providing healthy activities for inner city kids have worked to give young people living inside the cities a chance to share the fun and excitement of playing on a soccer team. In Richmond, Virginia, several people coming from different perspectives have joined together to create one of the outstanding soccer programs specifically for girls who live in the city.
The first Girls' Soccer League of Richmond kicked off their inaugural season in May 1996. Over 120 girls joined 12 teams, playing seven-a-side games on Saturdays. The teams, open to girls under 12, were coached by interested mothers, volunteers, and staff from the Richmond Recreation and Parks program. Many of the players and coaches had no prior exposure to soccer, but were eager to learn. The soccer season ran through May and June, but the girls' enthusiasm was so high that by popular demand a fall season was added. Grant money from AT&T provided uniforms and balls for all the teams, staff from Richmond Recreation and Parks coordinated venues and schedules, and experienced women players gave clinics and advice. All of this came about because of the dedication and perseverance of people who had been laying the groundwork for such a project for several years, each coming from a different background but with a common interest.
Joann Mason has devoted her professional life to the children of Richmond, working for 31 years for Richmond Recreation and Parks where she is now Director of Girls' Sports and Social Programs. Around three or four years ago she joined others who felt there were not enough programs offered for girls in the community and formed the Girls' Recreation and Social Program (known as G.R.A.S.P.) to increase the participation and interest of girls in the Richmond area. Many co-ed sports, including co-ed soccer, had been available, but the girls let it be known that they did not want to play with the boys. The boys were too rough, they were too macho, they didn't want the girls to play on their teams and wouldn't ever pass the ball to a girl. The object of G.R.A.S.P. was to offer girls-only activities, including all-girls sports leagues. Mason was committed to providing as many activities as she could for the girls, but it took a lot of money to outfit and equip teams. These are girls who do not come from a background where eager parents are able to buy uniforms, shoes, and camps for their children who participate in sports.
Meanwhile, Dave Hillgrove had been active in supporting various soccer ventures for years - he published a soccer magazine "Shots on Goal" for over five years, and has worked with a Soccer Start program (USYSA) in Richmond since 1992. He noticed that the downfall of earlier Soccer Start programs for inner city kids was due to trying to build the whole structure from scratch, instead of utilizing the existing Recreation and Parks staff and programs. Last year Hillgrove went to AT&T and convinced them to give a $10,000 grant specifically for the development of a Girls Soccer League for inner Richmond. He then approached Joann Mason, to see if her program was interested in getting a soccer program for girls going - he would supply and administer the money from AT&T, Richmond R&P would actually organize and run the program through G.R.A.S.P.
Mason was eager to add this to the other activities which were being offered for girls through G.R.A.S.P. The girls expressed an eagerness to play soccer but still insisted that they did not want to play on the existing co-ed teams with the boys.
Since many of the participants in the new Girls Soccer League had no background in the sport, Mason arranged for the girls and staff to be bused to a city park for an instructional clinic before they started the season. Hillgrove contacted Coach Lisa Zifcak, who brought her Virginia Commonwealth University Women's Soccer Team to run the clinic. Coach Zifcak reports that her team members were impressed with the high level of interest and enthusiasm from the G.R.A.S.P. group. This was the first time that they had done a clinic or workshop with kids who did not have any knowledge or background in soccer - some were still at the level of being amazed that they could not use their hands at all. The interest and enthusiasm of the Richmond girls was so high that the VCU team is planning to help out with another clinic this spring and according to Mason, the girls are eager to attend.
Hillgrove calls the program "Richmond's Soccer Start/Team Esteem" and building confidence and self esteem has been an important goal of the venture. Mason felt it was important to outfit the girls in their own uniforms, so they used the grant money to buy shin guards, first aid kits and full uniforms. Hillgrove has raised not only cash, but thousands of dollars worth of soccer equipment for the girls' and boys' Soccer Start program. Each of the girls' teams now has at least 5 balls - they are hoping to be able to get enough balls next season to have one for each player. At the end of the fall season all the girls who played were honored with a soccer necklace - a chain with a little soccer ball. Mason feels the girls have benefitted already from discovering that they can do things independently, they can get out and play the game themselves, without being dominated by the boys.
She reports that enthusiasm for the upcoming spring soccer season is already building with more girls interested in playing, so they may expand the number of teams this spring. They might go to a 5-a-side format so that more girls will actually have contact with the ball.
An enthusiastic member of the Women's Sports Foundation, Joann Mason is dedicated to providing more opportunities for girls in the inner city to play soccer and other sports. She put it this way: "There's something about working with these girls that I just like. It's not just because I'm a female. It's that they've been left out of so many things for so long that when they get a chance they really respond to it. They've never gotten a chance before - all the programs for sports have been for boys, when the girls get the chance they really get into it."
© Women's Soccer World March/April
Report from a Canadian Soccer Girl
By Maggie Mason
Girls and women around the world face varied opportunities, challenges and obstacles to play soccer. In many instances, the situations are similar, but each area differs in the support offered for the development of girls and women in soccer and the social attitudes toward their competing in a team sport. As the first in a series of personal reports from young players around the world, Maggie Mason offers a glimpse into the life of a Canadian teen pursuing a chance to develop her soccer skills to an elite level.
I am a seventeen-year-old girl in grade twelve at high school and I have been playing organized soccer since I was three. At age fourteen I left boys' soccer to venture into the women's soccer world.
For the past nine months I have been training with Team Ontario of the Ontario Soccer Academy - a team made up of players from across the province of Ontario, one of nine provincial teams in Canada. I also play elite club soccer year round with Burlington, a noted club team in Ontario, and indoor and outdoor soccer with a local women's recreational team in Elmira.
Team Ontario trains every Saturday and Sunday, year round. Occasion we plas against club teams during the week. Ontario trains early in the morning. Everyone - even players who live four hours away - must arrive around seven thirty for an eight o'clock practice or seven o'clock for an eight o'clock game. We train for two hours doing ball work, which incorporates fitness, and at the end of most practices we do a twelve minute run. These runs are for each player to push herself to do her best. Although we do measure everyone's distances, we are mainly focusing on each player developing her cardiovascular capacity to its highest level. I try to have my foot on the ball for at least a half hour every day, whether I'm inside my house, in my back yard or on the soccer pitch.
Until this past April, we trained outside during the winter on Astroturf - no matter what the weather. Recently though, we felt very lucky when a new building called The Soccer Centre was completed. With an indoor regulation-size pitch of artificial grass and three outdoor pitches, we are now able to train year round at The Soccer Centre. We, the Ontario Soccer Academy, are also fortunate to have signed a contract with adidas. This contract means adidas supplies training gear, shoes, warm-up suits and uniforms for all five teams in the Academy. Each player must pay for travelling herself, though, so most of us have sponsors to cover the high costs.
One challenge my Ontario team faces this season is the limited chance we have to play other provincial and state teams - which feature the caliber of soccer we need to face to become better players. We have gone on tours of Florida, Michigan and Mexico already this season, to find the level of competition we need. Worst yet, the national championships for our age category were cancelled this season due to lack of funds.
The loss of our championships was a big disappointment for all of us - my team lost the drive and focus we need to become mentally tough. Nationals are primarily what the provincial teams work toward when we train all year. It's especially hard on our team, since we are the youngest girls' team in our Academy. We are the developmental team for Ontario's U-18/19 team and Team Canada. When we go to play for the older Academy team next year, we will lack experience for handling the pressure of performing at championships. We are playing university teams from Mexico and Ontario, developmental teams from the U.S. and local elite club teams in Ontario, but those games are only day to day. When we lost our championships, we lost our desire, heart and soul.
I also play for an elite club team in Burlington that has the opportunity to play in the national club championships this October. Burlington trains four to five days a week for two hours each session. We are playing in the Ontario Cup - the most elite tournament for club teams in Ontario - and have qualified for the Finals later this month. We have full training sessions devoted to fitness. These fitness days are quite
intense and very competitive, but the main focus, again, is personal development.
I live in the small town of Elmira where there weren't any girls' teams when I was growing up (there are three teams now: U-17, U-15, U-13), so I played soccer with the same local boys' team each year. I played girls' soccer for the first time EVER three years ago when I made a club team in Kitchener. I want to stay connected to the soccer community that started my development as a player, so I am playing for the local women's recreational team. We play every Sunday night and have a great time together, but are usually unable to practice during the week due to jobs and other commitments. I love playing with the women because our games are easy-going and I find that even though some players may not have great skill, I learn from their experience and effort. I also acquire many profound, unspoken life lessons, which I rarely learn with people my age.
I have been quite lucky throughout my soccer career. My parents have been VERY supportive, backing each decision I make, even if my choice means they have to drive an extra hour and a half every night. In a few years, I hope to be a part of Canada's women's national soccer team.
Women's Soccer World invites young players from all countries to submit first-hand accounts of their experiences playing soccer at any level.
The Path to College Soccer
Leslie Gaston, a girl who grew up out of the soccer mainstream, finds the route to the nation's top team.
By Maggie Mason
Leslie Gaston often joked with her club teammates about receiving calls from big soccer schools, but when Coach Anson Dorrance actually phoned last December she shrieked into the receiver in delighted disbelief. The dream of every young soccer player came true for Leslie this winter, as she was recruited by universities such as Notre Dame, Stanford, George Mason, Vanderbilt, and Alabama - as well as North Carolina. This would be a remarkable accomplishment for any student, but for a girl growing up in an area where opportunities for girls and women to play are barely getting started, this bordered on unbelievable.
Leslie's experience offers hope for all girls who love soccer but live in small communities or areas where girls' soccer is not entrenched enough to offer competitive experience or exposure to college coaches. What does it take for a girl to make it to a big soccer school from a small soccer state? In Gaston's case it took perseverance, courage and parents willing to drive thousands of miles so their daughter could play on competitive teams.
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama - a small city with a minute girls' soccer community - she played from age 5 as the only girl on a team with her older brother. Her brother lost interest in soccer after a year or two, but Leslie loved it. When she reached second grade her mother coached a girl's team open to any players under 14, so that Leslie and her two younger sisters could compete against the other four teams in the only girl's league in town. Her mother had no previous experience in soccer, but their team won the city championship each year.
By the time she was eleven, Leslie needed more of a challenge, so she and her best friend tried out for a boy's traveling team coached by her friend's father. They both made the squad, and played in nearby tournaments, going as far as Birmingham and Atlanta and playing teams made up only of boys. She stuck with this team until she was 14 and accepted by a club team in Birmingham, the Briarwood Lady Lightnings. She continued to practice with her local boy's team on weekdays and her parents drove her to Birmingham (100 miles each way) two days a week to practice and play with her first competitive girls' team.
Last year she guest-played with the Top Hatters of Atlanta in a tournament in California. A large club with several traveling teams, the Top Hatters and their coach, James Harris, offered just what Leslie needed: an opportunity to play with and against the toughest competitors and exposure to college coaches. Due to administrative delays in getting her papers transferred from Alabama to the Georgia club, Leslie was restricted to cheering from the sidelines as the Top Hatters won the Top Flight level at the WAGS tournament in October, but her transfer was complete by the time she traveled with them to the Junior Orange Bowl in December, where she scored the winning goal in the final game.
Her hopes for a soccer scholarship had seemed diminished two years ago when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and was in the hospital for surgery during the Thanksgiving Olympic Development Program (ODP) tournament. But she persevered through rehabilitation and it was after this year's Thanksgiving ODP tournament in Bradenton, Florida that Leslie was named to the National Pool and started receiving serious attention from the big soccer schools. As a child, she'd dreamed of attending UNC because her father - a North Carolina native - had always worn Tar Heels shirts. As offers came in, she limited her choices to a school in the south, and on a tour of possible campuses in January was struck by the pride of people who attended UNC. She remembers touring a cemetery in Chapel Hill where the grave of one woman was inscribed:
"A Tar Heel born
A Tar Heel bred
A Tar Heel Raised
A Tar Heel Dead."
With school loyalty (and a sense of humor) like this in its graduates, she was drawn more than ever to the soccer powerhouse created by Coach Dorrance.
Gaston had come to the attention of Coach Dorrance when UNC Assistant Coach Bill Paladino saw her at ODP events and suggested that Dorrance take a look at her, since two of UNC's starting defenders were graduating. Dorrance saw her play in Florida, and was "impressed with her courage, speed, tackling and heading." He was especially impressed when, in the middle of a goal-mouth crowd with the keeper charging out, Gaston went for a header with no fear or restraint. He says that the one trait which most impressed him was her courage.
To reach the top in teen soccer, Leslie and her family worked and sacrificed. Her parents drove the 400 miles a week for her to compete with the Birmingham team. By the time she joined the Top Hatters Leslie was able to borrow the family car and drive herself to Atlanta (nearly a three hour drive each direction) and spent each weekend last fall with the family of a team member so that she could practice and play with her new team. She felt sad as she gave up the chance to attend dances and events at her school every weekend of her senior year, but she enjoyed her teammates and the tough workouts and games so much that she felt it was worthwhile because, "We're all so focused and have so much fun."
She has missed most Thanksgivings (except the one in the hospital) with her family and almost every Christmas break and holiday of her teen years has been spent traveling with a competitive team. She enjoys going out with her friends when she can, but has not had interest in a serious boyfriend, preferring to have fun with a group and feeling that she has plenty of time for dating later on. She's avoided the heavy drinking and drug use favored by many of her age group, and wouldn't consider smoking cigarettes, because of her need to protect and nurture her body as an athlete.
Leslie credits her Top Hatters coach with helping her progress in her soccer endeavors, adding, "Coach Harris made me grow up." He also offered solid advice on her game and college choices. Her parents, more than anyone else, have helped her. Neither of them had any soccer background and they never pushed her to play soccer - offering to let her participate in any sport she chose. The lesson they stressed was, "Leslie, if you make a commitment you have to stick with it." They always supported what she wanted to do, although the family is not wealthy and Leslie has sometimes needed financial aid to pursue her soccer dreams.
As she completes her last year of high school, Leslie has had to give up the opportunity for a college tour with the Top Hatters because she wanted to support the first girls' soccer team officially sponsored by her school. This year, for the first time, three high schools in Montgomery are fielding girls' teams and Leslie felt she owed it to her school to participate on the team, although there is no competitive challenge for her. (She is also running track for her school). Leslie is proud that her team is now 11 and 0 for the season and that she has had an opportunity to grow in a team leadership position. She is spending weekends at home and for the first time is able to enjoy parties and social functions with her classmates. Leslie stressed only the positive aspects of playing for her school, but it was obvious that the Alabama High School Association's rule banning club play for school team participants is causing her to miss chances to hone the skills which will be needed to compete for a starting slot on a team like UNC. Leslie will spend most of the summer in Atlanta, trying to get the most out of her last months with the Top Hatters.
Leslie had no particular role model in soccer as she grew up. She is pleased that her family still doesn't have cable tv ("They didn't want us to be couch potatoes") so she never saw the few women's matches which were televised during her youth. The family didn't subscribe to any soccer publications - Leslie learned the game because she just went out and played. She feels fortunate to have natural talent and ability, and hopes that with coaching from Anson Dorrance she'll learn the technique and tactical strategy which might one day qualify her for a place on the national team.
© Women's Soccer World May/June