Mount Pleasant Soccer: Small Program That Works

EVERY Saturday morning, the field at 16th and Lamont Streets N.W. becomes a rainbow of kids, darting, kicking, and shouting in a high-spirited game of soccer.

There ought to be nothing special about these neighborhood soccer games, says Jim Farrell, who started the program three years ago.

But this is Mt. Pleasant, where ethnic and economic tensions have only worsened since last year's riot. Through it all, the soccer program has flourished, bringing together about 75 boys and girls ages five through 11 from white, black, Latino, and Asian families. Some kids trickle in from other parts of town, including tony Georgetown and poor black areas.

"I started this because soccer is something you can do with kids and not get into the other racial agendas in Mt. Pleasant," says Mr. Farrell, a scientist for the space program. "It's for people who want a recreational soccer program that's not very competitive."

"One [minority] mom said, `It's the first thing I could do with my kid that made him happy. When he got a trophy, he slept with it.' "

Farrell hires Latino junior-high students to referee for $10 a game. Parents and other interested adults serve as coaches.

One gratifying offshoot, says Farrell, is to see parents of different backgrounds getting together, car-pooling and sharing information about schools and the community.

Even his own family has been touched: Farrell discovered that an older black man who often came to watch his son play had served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. For Black History Month, Farrell's own son interviewed the man, Col. C.S. Martin, and played the tape for his class. Later, Colonel Martin came to the class and showed a film about the airmen.

"Boy, was the teacher impressed!" says Farrell.

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