The new philanthropic arm of the Seattle Sounders will celebrate its youth-soccer program on Monday, and if it never brings one player to Major League Soccer, Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer is OK with that.
The program simply intends to bring soccer to Seattle communities where it isn’t readily available. And then, with small fields to play on and soccer balls to play with, the plan is not to walk away, but to inch away at least enough to let kids be kids.
“Some of the kids that we’re trying to reach, they really are just not participating right now,” Hanauer said of the club's new 501c-3 charity, the RAVE Foundation. “If we can get a seven, eight, or nine-year-old who would like to play soccer but can’t really participate to go out with his buddy – her buddies - and just knock a ball around, then we’ve accomplished what we want.”
In other parts of the world, that happens more organically. Find a field, or something that can serve as a field. Find a ball, or something that can serve as a ball. Then play. Simplicity is one of the beauties of the beautiful game.
But sometimes in the United States – the Seattle area included – that formula becomes more complicated.
“One story sort of stuck out in my mind,” Hanauer said. “On occasion one of these underserved communities will somehow muster the energy and the capital to build a field or improve a field in their community and in order to support it they have to rent it out. And they end up renting it out to all the rich kids in the suburbs who drive into their community, use their fields in the prime hours and then leave. And the kids in the community don’t get to use the field.”
Hanauer heard that tale about six years ago when people representing politics, non-profits, and underserved and ethnic communities met at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. The topic was the lack of access to fields. And while those attending were united in good intentions, they weren’t united in their path to a solution.
That’s when Hanauer decided to go his own way, and to pay his own way.
“I wanted to try to accomplish my goal, which was to build these little fields in underserved communities, open them up to free play for kids, involve the community in looking after the field, so some social programming around these fields, but mostly provide a little patch of turf or flooring and a couple of goals and balls and allow kids to play,” he said. “The other thing that I decided early on was that I was going to fund this to begin with myself and not try to go out and get a lot of people involved and raise money. I wanted to do it kind of quickly, do a bit of a proof of concept and then see if we could find some stakeholders to get involved.”
The result was the RAVE Foundation, with its motto of “Small Fields. Big Ideas.”
On Monday afternoon at the Yesler Community Center, the vision will be shared: small fields of roughly 50 feet by 100 feet, with walls, permanent goals, and either turf of futsal surfaces built to accommodate three-on-three or four-on-four matches. The first pitch will appear at Yesler Park (below), with construction targeted for next spring. Other fields will follow, perhaps 10 over the next five years.
“It’s the next evolutionary example of how Sounders FC cares about the community and the kids that grow up and will live and work in our city,” said Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, Executive Director of the RAVE Foundation and General Counsel for Sounders FC. “I’m just really proud that we’re leading in this way and that we’re becoming stakeholders in Seattle and in what public spaces look like in the city of Seattle. Soccer should be included in those public spaces in some way, and that’s a pretty cool thing.”
Monday's event also will include a clinic with former Sounders and current S2 players, along with giveaway balls, t-shirts and other items. Then the rollout will continue all week: Wednesday at Pike Place Market, Thursday at Westlake Square, Saturday at Pier 58, and Sunday at CenturyLink Field, where the Sounders will face the LA Galaxy.
Hanauer said he could foresee some player eventually moving from one of these small fields to the Sounders FC Academy, and who knows after that. But the point is less about developing soccer skills than developing lives. Play soccer, the foundation believes, and improved health, decision-making and creativity will follow.
Once the fields are built, the club plans continued involvement. Balls will be provided. Sounders could stop by for a kick-around with the kids. The foundation has budgeted for ongoing maintenance at the sites. Other Sounders FC partners will add components of nutrition and other health issues.
“But for the most part we don’t want a lot of programming,” Hanauer said. “We want kids to know that basically anytime they want to come out and knock the ball around, it’s theirs.”