PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s World Cup finals appearance did not only inspire the nation, it inspired an inner-city girls team in the heart of Philadelphia.
The Anderson Monarchs gathered on a couch, relishing in the sports spectacle, stimulated by the team’s profound showmanship.
The predominantly African-American team is coached by Walter Stewart, who started the all-girls team in 1998 in the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.
Despite the girls’ ardor for soccer, the team has little to no funding, and practice on a borrowed, desolate patch of field that is oftentimes littered with trash and drug paraphernalia. Many of the young girls reside in dangerous neighborhoods and have little access to safe, after-school activities.
“They deal with the challenges of inner-city living for black girls, and soccer isn’t that popular socially,” said Jafi Barnes, assistant coach. “We deal with racism, social pressures, but it does teach them about life and brings them closer together.”
The Monarchs aren’t just about soccer. Grades are just as important as picking up ball-handling skills — or more so.
“The idea is to get to college. You can’t play and you can’t attend a Division I school without having the grades,” Barnes said. “This is about a lifestyle change.”