By Clare S. Richie
Every Monday through Friday, my son or daughter puts on their soccer gear, climbs into the neighborhood carpool and heads over to the Arizona Fields for Inter Atlanta FC Blues (IAFC) Academy practice. They follow in the footsteps of thousands of Atlanta kids who have played soccer with this nonprofit club, formerly known as Atlanta Youth Soccer Association (AYSA), since its founding 25 years ago.
In 1987, a time of VHS tapes, big hair and leg warmers, the closest youth soccer league was in Clayton County. So, city councilman and Inman Park resident John Sweet and his wife Midge started a neighborhood league for their daughter, at the suggestion of their neighbor Marshall Boutwell, an official with Georgia Youth Soccer Association.
In fall 1988, these founding officers began a recreational program with 40 kids, grouped into four co-ed under age 8 (“U8”) teams. Practices were held at Mary Lin Elementary, where most players attended school. By the spring season, 150 children registered.
City of Atlanta youth were hungry for a local soccer program. As the club grew it added competitive programs, Select and Academy, and leased more fields from the city or Atlanta Public Schools. What the club needed was more fields.
From the early 2000s until 2006, the club worked to convert a polluted truck depot into 7.3 acres of recreational green space, known as Arizona Soccer Fields Complex. To date, the complex has received support from families, foundations and corporations, such as the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, U. S. Soccer Foundation, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Frances Wood Wilson Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In recent years, the club expanded with more on-field instruction and off-field support, more training for recreational coaches, more options for kids at younger ages, and more practices and tournaments for competitive players. According to John Downey, Director of Academy, these changes have yielded positive results. “Ability level is increasing across the board, every year,” Downey explained.
Today, IAFC offers recreational programs ages 3-19 and competitive programs U8 – U19 to 1,500 youth, from many in-town Atlanta neighborhoods: Ansley Park, Avondale Estates, Buckhead, Candler Park, Decatur, Druid Hills, East Atlanta, Edgewood, Grant Park, Inman Park, Kirkwood, Lenox, Lindbergh, Morningside, Oakhurst, Piedmont Heights, and Virginia Highland. And it’s still growing. Future plans call for outreach to children in underserved nearby neighborhoods.
Yet, even with all the growth and change, community involvement remains a club value. IAFC brings families and players together for social activities, provides soccer clinics in surrounding neighborhoods, and offers need-based scholarships.
“We are focusing our efforts on fundraising, outreach and field acquisition to support current growth and future expansion,” IAFC executive director Jenn Dobson said.
The next 25 years are sure to be just as exciting.
For more about the organization, visit interatlantafc.com.