Soccer field

New soccer field at MARTA station brings sport to immigrant children – WABE

Moses Buraruhanya rushes onto brand new bright green grass. Dozens of children dressed in maroon football shirts with “KENSINGTON” written in white across the shoulders dribble, pass and zoom around StationSoccer’s brand new football pitch at MARTA Station Kensington.

Soccer in the Streets’ free, transit-oriented club soccer program, StationSoccer, opened its first ground in Dekalb County on Saturday. The new location is the fifth in the program and connects immigrant and refugee children in nearby Clarkston to a network of teams that use MARTA to travel to practices and games.

Buraruhanya started playing football at the age of 6 and played for his school in Ghana where he grew up. He moved to Atlanta when he was a young teenager, and the 18-year-old now has big dreams.

Moses Buraruhanya (left) stands with his coach, Abdul Bangura, just off the pitch at MARTA’s Kensington station on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

“Watching other people play as a professional and seeing what they’ve achieved motivates me to believe in myself. Saying, ‘I can do this,'” he said.

Learning to set long-term goals and gaining the discipline to achieve them may seem like a peripheral benefit of sports for these kids, but the life skills they learn playing a team sport are one of the reasons. for which Soccer in the Streets is free. children’s clubs.

And StationSoccer has partnered with MARTA to remove one of the biggest barriers to entry into the otherwise free program: transportation.

Sanjay Patel is the mastermind behind setting up football pitches at MARTA stations.

Young football players from Clarkston and surrounding communities battle for control of the ball in midfield during a friendly scrimmage match at a newly opened StationSoccer pitch at MARTA Station Kensington on Saturday July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson /for WABE)

“It would usually be an unused portion of the parking lot,” Patel said. “I thought to myself, well, what if we built a network of football pitches in the stations and built a league, in which our children could represent their stations – that would be their club – and they would play in different other stations. And… why not remove the transport barrier via MARTA? »

For immigrant and refugee children in Clarkston, the Kensington Station team can help them feel at home in a new country, a new culture and a new language.

Sanjay Patel unveils the special edition MARTA Breeze card designed to commemorate StationSoccer’s expansion at MARTA’s Kensington Station on Saturday July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

Atlanta is the only city in the country to have this transit-oriented sports club and already has land at Five Points, West End, East Point and Lindbergh MARTA stations. StationSoccer’s current goal is to have a league of 10 stations.

“We’re doing something very simple through football,” Patel said. “We don’t do anything fancy, so why can’t this be everywhere?”

LISC Executive Director Dale Royal (left to right), MARTA Board Chair Rita Scott; Marissa Ahrens, community relations manager for Atlanta United, and Dekalb County Commissioner Ted Terry join young soccer players in a banner kick to celebrate StationSoccer’s expansion at the MARTA train station in Kensington on Saturday July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

From day one, Atlanta United supported the initiative. Marissa Ahrens, the football club’s community relations manager, said the foundation exists to reinvest in the community that rallies around the team.

For them, she says, supporting immigrant and refugee children is a no-brainer.

“The only thing that can get them in with other kids is football,” Ahrens said. This is an opportunity for children to make new friends in their new home.

“And maybe one day,” she said, “we’ll see some of these kids at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”