Like the roots of a tree, our heritage grounds, nurtures and grows us. It branches out and reaches new heights but ties us back to our roots. During Hispanic Heritage month, we are reminded of the herencia hispana that grows within many people around the city. This community of people, all from different backgrounds but united by a common thread: living within two cultures.
On Thursday, Sept. 22, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda, assistant coach Eugenio Villazón, assistant coach Diego de la Torre and goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño visited Soccer Station-Lindbergh as a part of Atlanta United’s Bi-Cultural Education Program (BCEP).
Alongside Soccer in the Streets (SITS) and the Latin American Association, the Bi-Cultural Education Program seeks to connect Atlanta United players and staff with the Latino youth in Atlanta and have conversation around living life with two cultures.
The afternoon began with parents and children arriving at Soccer Station-Lindbergh. The kids began catching up with their friends, looking around at some not so familiar faces.
“Do you know who special guests are?” asked Jorge Ortiz, Northside Program Manager at SITS.
The children looked at the special guest scanning them up and down, looking for a clue as to who they were. Finally, a small hand was raised, and one of the SITS participants sheepishly spoke up.
“They’re from Atlanta United?”
That introduction was all the kids needed to realize who the guests were. After that the fun began. The coaching staff joined in on the warmups, playing “Red Light, Green Light,” but this time with a twist.
Ortiz made the calls, red light, yellow light, purple light… Purple light? The Atlanta coaches froze, then a little girl looked up at Coach de la Torre and yelled “silly dance!” And just like that the Atlanta coach staff broke out into a silly dance, making the children smile.
After warmups, it was back to business – dribbling drills. Whether it’s at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground with professional soccer players or at Soccer Station-Lindbergh with children the Atlanta United coaching staff will give their all and might get a little competitive along the way.
“It’s so nice to be with the kids,” Pineda said. “There is so much enthusiasm, so much play and joy for the sport. It’s something really beautiful. And it’s great that there are these types of spaces where they can develop freely and can enjoy this beautiful sport.”
After the dribbling drill, the kids went on to play a game to test their reflexes. Like the game “Simon Says”, two players had to follow the coach’s prompts. When the coach said “pick up the ball” the two players had to race to pick up the ball between them. The drills brought on some friendly competition, and at one point Coach De La Torre found himself on the ground with his teammate trying to reach the ball first.
The joy was felt by everyone there. Families gathered at the pitch early, in preparation for the late afternoon training. Coach Eugenio Villazón was all smiles as he did the drills alongside the children. It was his first time at this event, but el Profe Villazón said he enjoyed every minute of it.
“I’m very happy because they gifted us with an hour of life for us,” Villazón said. “We spent time with the kids, it was great so I’m really happy with this event.”
Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends all cheered on their loved ones as practice continued. It’s been two years since Soccer Station-Lindbergh first opened its doors in August 2020. Since its inaugural year, the pitch has provided a space for kids of all ages to practice soccer while being easily accessible through MARTA.
After practice, the coaches and Gudiño gathered around the kids to answer any questions they had about the sport, their experiences, and to discuss anything on their mind. The kids brought fun questions and a couple of laughs.
Though the day featured on-and-off storms, gusts of wind that knocked down signs and scattered flyers, the families were not turned away. The evening ended with hugs, pictures and smiles. The coaching staff and Gudiño stayed back to give out scarves to the kids who participated and the families who attended.
Not just soccer and not just fútbol, the sport is a tool that connects people regardless of their background, regardless of their native language. This sport also provided the opportunity for open dialogue on a small pitch in Lindbergh. The event was something special for all who attended and left the special guests inspired for the future.
“It means embracing a culture in which we are all welcome,” Villazón said. “Especially us Latinos, it feels like a country where Latinos have a very important role so to share this with the Latino community in Atlanta, in America as well, is an honor.”