In July 2015, the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup in front of a record-breaking television audience of 26.7 million American viewers. More Americans watched the U.S. women’s soccer team dispose of Japan than watched the NBA title game between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The U.S. women’s soccer team is currently on a victory tour and it is safe to say that America has caught up with the rest of the world, finally giving the world’s most popular sport the proper support and respect it deserves here in the states.
The U.S. women’s soccer team is showcasing their prowess on the soccer field while playing against international opponents during the 10-city tour which kicked off Aug. 16 against fellow Women’s World Cup participant Costa Rica at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The rise of the U.S. women’s soccer team reflects the dues that American women have been paying in order to play and grow this sport throughout the world. The popularity of U.S. women’s soccer players like Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Michelle Akers and Briana Scurry have helped stimulate the interest that young American girls have in being a part of the most popular sport in the world.
An example of the desire for young girls to continue learning and growing this sport is reflected in the Southside Heat (commonly referred to as The Heat), the only competitive female African American teenage soccer team in the city of Atlanta.
The Heat, which is a member of Southwest Atlanta’s Tiger Soccer Club, has risen to athletic prominence over the better part of a decade. Ranked 39th in the state of Georgia and among the leaders in Athena U15 Competitive Soccer, the team marched into fall season play after an undefeated season in 2014. The Heat has established itself as a tough, nose to the grind bunch with an undying passion for the game.
“When you look at the soccer level in Atlanta, it’s a quality level,” says Coach Domenic Martelli, an Olympic Development Region 3 board member and former West Point Military Academy Assistant Coach (Women) who supervised a weeklong Developmental Camp with the Heat this summer. “It’s only a matter of time before this group is competing in Athena A or B division. They were great – very receptive and they worked very, very hard.”
Fred Spencer, whose daughter Simone Spencer (12) has been playing soccer since the age of four, left another team to join the Heat this season upon hearing of its stellar reputation.
“We weren’t pleased with the last club she was with,” said Spencer. “She’s getting a lot more skills and training here. She likes the camaraderie of the girls and she’s having fun.”
In addition to developing great skills and having fun, the girls also have a strong, sisterly bond.
“What makes them special is their cohesiveness,” said Ronald Freeman, President of the Tiger Soccer Club. “They’re friends. They do well in school. They come from very supportive families and they love to play soccer. I think that they have been a great representation of girls’ soccer in South Fulton and they’ve encouraged a lot of other young ladies to consider soccer.”
That’s a good thing considering that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently announced he’s bringing a new Major League Soccer team to Atlanta. The team, named Atlanta United FC, will play their first game in the new Atlanta Stadium in March of 2017. With the growing interest in soccer and the sport’s increasing accessibility to African-American girls and boys, The Heat may be cultivating the next World Cup Champion on their roster who may one day play in the World Cup.
If the members of The Heat keep up the hard work, dedication and tenacity, then that day is not too far away.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, an award-winning news blog covering the African Diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.