Saturday was a big day in East Point: ‘This site is going to change people’s lives’Kalen Watkins played a superb round as shot blocker as strikers lined up against him during the inaugural play at the new field Soccer in the Streets and its partners established in East Point. Credit: David Pendered
By David Pendered
Ten-year-old goalie Kelan Watkins was a phenomenal shot blocker in the inaugural play Saturday on Soccer in the Street’s new field. The play represented a tender moment in metro Atlanta, a time when the first winds of autumn accompanied what may be a major shift in everyday life for a lot of people.
Such were the themes expressed during remarks before kids christened the field by kicking balls toward and sometimes into goals. This was a big day in East Point.
“We are so, so, so excited – I’ve been trying to figure out another word,” East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham said. “This will give our youth the opportunity to be exposed to, and have access to, soccer – a world language that brings people together around the world.”
Joel Baskin, an attorney, said the land for the field that he and Oz Pizza owner Chris Wiley provided could become a place for good things to happen. Without the land from the two business owners, the small site the city owned wouldn’t have been enough to serve as a field.
“This is a milestone that will change a lot of people’s lives, this site is going to change people’s lives – the socialization, discipline, good health and friendship that will happen here,” Baskin said.
Artist Sean Irving said the mural he designed for the wall on Baskin’s building joins his coaching at the Soccer in the Streets program at MARTA’s West End Station as ways he gives back to the community.
“The mural reflects how I feel when I play the game – free, and kind of, ‘leave worries on the sidelines,’” Irving said. “I wanted to bring that out in the mural, and the concept of unity. Not just to unify East Point and the rest of the cities, but all ethnicities in East Point.”
Jeff Parker, MARTA’s CEO, touched on the mobility the agency provides that enriches so many aspects of daily life.
“It’s so exciting for MARTA to be a thread among the children who are looking to empower themselves and grow into the future,” Parker said. “MARTA provides access to work and to go to school. MARTA is here for the community to flourish, and MARTA wants to be part of that.”
TransFormation Alliance’s managing director, Odetta MacLeish-White, offered up a vision for the future.
“This all belongs to you, and the residents of East Point look forward to it becoming a vibrant place of trust,” MacLeish-White said.
And with little fanfare, the youngsters were invited onto the new field to do what children do – kick balls toward goals, kick balls toward each other, sometimes not kick a ball at all.
Mose James V had to be coaxed by his Dad to join in the inaugural play. Mose had passed time during the opening remarks by stretching out on the artificial turf and exchanging glances with his sister, Jurnee James. The Dad, Mose James IV, encouraged his son to get out on the pitch and kept an eye on him as he and Jurnee looked around.
“I own the photo booth in that building,” James said, pointing toward a building behind the soccer field. “I have a house in College Park, not two miles from here. I’ve been here 37 years, and I’m excited that he’ll have something so close to home – on this side of town.”
The phenomenal goalie, Kenan Watkins, held his spot while child after child took turns trying to get the ball around him and into the net. When it came time for a break, he crossed the field to take his turn shooting balls toward the goal. Kenan’s smile seemed to never leave his face.
“He loves to do it,” Kenan’s Mom, LaKenya Turner, said. “He played at RISE Grammar. He does his school work so he can go out and play.”