Newark youth get the first dibs at playing at Newark's first, premier soccer field. Photo credit: Theodore Liggians II, Department of Communications, City of Newark

First ever turf soccer field opens in Newark to provide access to a beloved sport, and get the youth to exercise after being indoors for over a year

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The first of its kind in Newark, the city partners with local hospitals and sports academy to open a new soccer field just in time for the summer.

Go to any pocket of the world, rich or poor, closed or opened-bordered, and pick an ethnicity. On any given day, you will find kids and adults handling a ball through foot dribbles and kicks to cross a goal line. That is football to the globe. While the world loves football, in the United States, it is called soccer, and is an exclusive sport. The Players Development Academy (PDA), one of the top clubs in the country is now working to make it a more accessible pastime in many more communities.

“Soccer has become a very socioeconomic, difficult place to get in, its a very upper middle class [sport where] most of the clubs are tuition-based,” said Gerry McKeown, the boys coaching director in the Urban Initiative of the Players Development Academy.

Ironically, many of the communities that represent star soccer players outside of the U.S. would come from or find their kinfolk in places where soccer is barely accessible in the states. Black, Latino, low-wealth, immigrant, are all common identities of soccer players loved by the world.

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“During the pandemic we thought [about] how can we do more and how we could do better, what type of project would make us a stronger, better, more inclusive club,” said McKeown. The goal they put forward was simple: bring more soccer to the people, and get the youth excited about sports and health. So, they launched a program to build fields in underserved, soccer communities then offer coaching and playing opportunities to children.

Now, a premier soccer turf has now been added to the Marquis “Bo” Porter Sports Complex in Newark’s South Ward. The field is part of a collaborative initiative with the Players Development Academy, along with the support of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, and the City of Newark. Newark’s South Ward is the fourth field out of ten that PDA plans to build in New Jersey.

. . . .
Opening of field. From left to right: Marc E. Berson, Chair, RWJBarnabas Health; Vaughn Crowe, Vice Chair, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center; Darrell K. Terry Sr., President and Chief Executive Officer, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey; Francis J. Giantomasi, Chair, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center; Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka; Atiya Jaha Rashidi, Chief Equity Officer and VP of Community Relations, Newark Beth Israel and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey; and Patrick Council, Department of Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Senior Services, City of Newark.

At the opening of the field, 50 youth joined the historic moment. “Our commitment is with our community, with our neighbors [and] with the kids of Newark,” said Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey President and CEO Darrell K. Terry, Sr. “We’re extremely excited to participate in a small way in bringing some fun and normalcy back to Newark after challenging time.”

RWJ Barnabus backs the sport initiative as a plan to provide a comprehensive project for the youth that also provides education on exercise and nutrition. This is also part of their $150 million “Newark Strong,” expansion plans of their hospital facilities into Newark’s South Ward.

As well, the soccer program is part of extensive summer programming by the City that also includes a summer enrichment camp and cheer camp at the sports complex. “Its about strong recreational programming, holistic recreation and partnerships and collaborations,” said Patrick Council, Newark’s Director of the Department of Recreation, Cultural Affairs, and Senior Services.

Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka emphasized that the day the field opened was the first day that the city opened its facilities for summer activities. His focus was on the youth being able to play again. “I want them to enjoy every second, every minute of [summer],” said Baraka. “I’m incredibly grateful for all of the partners to make this happen.”

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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