There were no double-headed axes: this time it was gold painted pick axes that were brandished in the playground of the James John Elementary School in St. Johns on Friday morning.
After hearing how the game has the power to transform communities, Mayor Sam Adams and major figures in local soccer posed for photos. About 20 of the Timbers Army taught chants to local kids.
“We are the Rose City,” boomed the TA. “You can’t stop us,” trilled the kids in response.
This summer sees the start of a complete remodel of the black asphalt square at 7439 N. Charleston Ave. Pride of place will go to a small artificial turf soccer field, paid for with charitable contributions, which include $10,000 from the Portland Timbers Field Grant.
Ed Foster-Simeon flew in from Washington D.C. as the President and CEO of the US Soccer Foundation. The foundation is the major charitable arm of soccer in the US and was created with money from the 1994 World Cup. Its focus is on growing the game of soccer with an emphasis on under-served and low income communities.
“Most soccer programs are pay-to-play and for some children that’s a barrier,” he said. And people say ‘Oh, kids should just go out and play,’ but the reality is today most parents are afraid to let their kids run the streets all day, unsupervised.” He stressed the importance of creating safe places to play.
“A lot of parents are happy when they see their kid sitting on the couch playing a video game because they know he or she’s safe.”
Foster-Simeon said there ideally will be soccer here five days a week, depending on the availability of volunteers.
Adidas, the Portland Timbers, the Timbers Army and 107 Independent Supporters Trust, the Oregon Sports Authority, the U.S Soccer Foundation, and America SCORES have partnered to establish AC PORTLAND. AC stands for “Advantage Center”, and James John is the first Advantage Center in Portland.
Rather than just renting a bulldozer, the idea is the community should use its sweat equity to build a field. On July 16 the blacktop will be professionally cut into squares, and on July 23 volunteers including members of the Timbers Army will swing pick axes and remove the surface.
“It’ll be a proper place for these kids to play soccer, it’ll give them a pitch of their own,” said Ernesto Bruce, MLS Category Manager at adidas America.
“We put the programming in place too, so it’s not just a field. There will be after school soccer.”
Student Juan Gutierrez, age 11, was kicking a ball around with some friends. “I’m looking forward to having some grass, it won’t hurt when we fall over,” said Gutierrez, whose favorite player is Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
“Education levels the playing field, and this is an opportunity for a playing field to help education,” said James John Elementary principal Beth Shelby.
Programs such as Soccer for Success try to educate kids subtly about nutrition and exercise, and also mentor them.
“We’re focused on the many as opposed to the (athletically) elite few,” said Foster-Simeon. “We ask, ‘Are we using the game to help them grow into good people?’”
He praised the Timbers’ MLS debut. “The energy here in Portland is unique, you guys have got something special going on here. That the Timbers fans have a sense of responsibility to the community at large - that has potential for massive social change.”
“Soccer is such a universal language and it’s a very powerful tool to bring people and resources and organizations together to do good,” said Timbers Chief Operating Officer Mike Golub.
Patrik Nilsson, President of adidas America, said, “We consider Portland Soccer City USA, but you need to start at grass roots level and give kids the opportunity to play. Soccer is not only about playing soccer, it’s about learning, leading, discipline and teamwork.”