Kick-starting inner-city boom has been tough

June 13, 1994|By Paul McMullen

The punch line would be funny if it weren't the sad truth: The American Pele probably will never be discovered, because he doesn't have the money to play ODP.

Many coaches and observers of the soccer scene say the United States will never become a world power at the game until urban blacks take to the sport. The inner city, however, is one place that hasn't been hit by the soccer boom, which is at its most competitive in the Olympic Development Program, a state all-star system.

The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks registers thousands of children for soccer every year, but the outdoor leagues are usually arms of Catholic parishes, and county teams pay most of the rent at the indoor arenas.

The Baltimore Bays and Provident Bank ran a clinic league last year that was designed for 300 inner-city children. Twice that many participated.

Desmond Armstrong, a member of the U.S. team at the 1990 World Cup who got his start in Columbia, has been frustrated in his search for corporate assistance to help spread soccer to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He also said young urban blacks don't have any soccer stars to identify with the way they do in football, basketball and baseball.

Another shortcoming, however, appears to be on the sidelines.

"There's a coaching gap, and there are two ways it can be filled," said Tom Forman, a program supervisor in the Department of Recreation and Parks. "We need dedicated people who are willing to come to the inner city and coach, or we need them to teach other people how to coach."

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