by KaShawn Archer
The U.S. women’s soccer team may have lost to Japan, but it’s still inspiring this special team of inner-city girls who play soccer on a dusty field in urban Philly. “I want to grow up and be a professional soccer Player.” India Barnes told CNN Sunday while her team gathered to watch the Women’s world Cup finals with their coaches.
Coach Walter Barnes began coaching the all-girls team in 1998 with only 8 players at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia. Stewart oversees the urban program, whose players are mainly African-Americans competing against suburban teams or elite clubs.
Stewart left a partnership at a downtown Philadelphia law firm to become a fourth-grade teacher at a Catholic elementary school and to volunteer his out-of-school hours to introducing soccer to urban youth who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to play.
“There would be no team if it wasn’t for Coach Walt. It really is a labor of love. He doesn’t get paid and we can barely afford uniforms,” said Jada Pennick [to CNN], whose daughter, Cyndey, plays for the team
The players also face other obstacles. Many are from neighborhoods that have widespread violence, drug use and lack access to after-school activities.”They deal with the challenges of inner-city living for black girls, and soccer isn’t that popular socially,” said Jafi Barnes, assistant coach. “We deal with racism, social pressures, but it does teach them about life and brings them closer together.”
The hopes of becoming professional soccer players also inspire the girls to do well educationally. “The idea is to get to college. You can’t play and you can’t attend a Division I school without having the grades,” Barnes said. “This is about a lifestyle change.”