By Dyana Bagby

Kathy Britt of Avondale Estates was there when the U.S. Women’s soccer team took home the gold medal – its first – during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Britt, a soccer fan who works at the Emory University Woodruff Library, followed the Atlanta Beat when it was a part of the Women’s United Soccer Association. The team folded in 2003 after three years of play. Now, the Beat is back as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) leage,  and Britt can’t wait again to see women’s pro soccer in her backyard, or close to it.

The new Atlanta Beat debuts on May 9 against the reining champions, Sky Blue FC from New Jersey/New York, at its new 8,300-seat, state-of-the-art stadium at Kennesaw State University.

“[Soccer] is a fast-paced, very physically demanding sport,” Britt, 43, said. “I am constantly amazed at the physical abilities of soccer players. And, the more I follow it, the more I learn about skill and strategy, and the more I love the game. In what other sport can you have a game end in a 0-0 draw and still walk away thinking that this was an amazing, exciting game?”

Atlanta Beat General Manager Shawn McGee is hoping Britt’s attitude carries throughout metro Atlanta. He understands there may be an obstacle convincing Intown fans to travel to Kennesaw. But the stadium – built in conjunction with KSU and its championship college women’s team – is the only stadium built specifically for a women’s pro soccer team. The Atlanta Beat has also managed to draft the best players, including number one pick Tobin Heath, gold medalist from the University of North Carolina.

“We’re definitely spending time and effort to market to the entire metro Atlanta area. We believe if you come and try us out at least once you’ll be back,” he said.

Britt, who’s already purchased her season tickets, said she thinks the Beat’s decision to build a women’s specific stadium is “phenomenal and as such they will be a leader in the area of women’s soccer.”

“I am very excited about the new stadium and the owner’s commitment to women’s soccer – and I hope that the stadium will, in fact, be a draw to Atlanta for more high-level games, like hopefully some Women’s National Team games.”

Putting quality players on the field such as Heath as well as a host of others combined with a award-winning coaching staff ensures a quality product on the field and a team that McGee believes will continually vie for championships and live up to its vision of being the “best in the world.”

“We have to put a great product on the field and we are prepared to do that on opening day,” McGee said. “Come give us a shot and we believe you’ll be impressed.”

Off the field, players will also be accessible to the community through various events including the team’s first public appearance together on March 13 at a 5K/1 mile dog run/ 1-mile fun run beginning at the BrandsMart USA on Busbee Drive in Kennesaw.

“We are picking players that are not only great on the field but who are also great in the community,” McGee added. For example, after every game, all players will be available to sign autographs.

McGee credits Atlanta Beat owner and Cobb County activist Fitz Johnson with keeping the team’s mission, yes, one of winning but also of giving back to the community.

Johnson’s daughters, both born premature, excelled in soccer and are now in college. McGee said Johnson saw how the sport gave them the self-esteem and courage to become strong women. The Atlanta Beat is part of his way of giving back.

“His vision is for us to be the best in the world,” McGee said. “And with our inclusion, we do have a shot of being the best on the field and off the field in the community … Fitz Johnson is very much a philanthropist who is about giving back and helping young ladies have a place to play a sport.”

McGee, himself a former soccer player, loves the marketing and business of the sport but also says there is a reason the sport is called “the beautiful game.”

With hundreds of young girls playing in local leagues and continuing through high school, McGee and the Atlanta Beat want the ensure there is a place for young women to continue their careers in one of the most played sports in the world.

“It’s OK to be the underdog [when it comes to spectators], but I think that time is coming when soccer, especially women’s soccer, will be a major spectator sport,” he said.

WPS teams are: New York/New Jersey Sky Blue FC; Washington, D.C. Washington Freedom; Boston Breakers; St. Louis Athletica; Chicago Red Stars; Bay Area FC Gold Pride; and now the Beat as well as another expansion team, Philadelphia Independence. The Los Angeles Sol disbanded in late January.

For more information about the Atlanta Beat, visit www.facebook.com/home.php/TheAtlantaBeat or www.atlantawomensprosoccer.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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