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The City Journals

RSL, Partners Unveil Mini-Pitch at Granger Elementary

Aug 04, 2016 04:33PM ● By Travis Barton

Granger Elementary students kick soccer balls toward a goal to officially open the RSL donated soccer pitch. –Kimberly Roach

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City, Utah - Where once stood outdated green and red tennis courts, now stands claret and cobalt soccer pitches.

 Real Salt Lake, in partnership with MLS WORKS, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Adidas held a Grand Opening Event at Granger Elementary on July 6 for two brand new mini-pitches.

 “It’s already become a source of pride,” Granger Elementary Principal Amber Clayton said.  

 The project comes as part of the 20 for 20 Mini-Pitch Initiative where 20 mini-pitches are built in conjunction with the 20 Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs around the country. Each court is meant to offer children in underserved communities a safe place to play as well as supporting the continued growth of the game in North America.

 Granger Elementary had 45 kids from their summer school program participate with their parents as the special guests for an evening that included Real Salt Lake Owner Dell Loy Hansen, Leo the Lion, Real Salt Lake Players and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

 “All of our kids need a safe place to play and a chance to play on their own terms and that’s what this place will be,” McAdams said.

 Instead of a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony, the pitches were official opened by the kids shooting soccer balls through a banner held in front of the goal. The event finished off the night by dividing up the kids and playing in small-sided games with RSL players Justen Glad and Jordan Allen. Clayton said that was maybe the best part.

 “Obviously the speeches and things are nice but for the kids, that was pretty special,” Clayton said. “It was pretty hard to get everyone out of there they were having such a good time.”

 The surprise of the night came when SNHU awarded a full college scholarship to Brett Thomas, a tech assistant who works in just about everything at Granger. Thomas, who has his associates degree, said he had no idea the scholarship was coming.

“It was way crazy, and overwhelming,” Thomas said.

 In a joint venture with all the sponsors, SNHU awards one scholarship in all the communities where these pitches are built. Clayton asked if they could pick the prospective student and Thomas was chosen. He has worked in various capacities at the school since he was 17 including the after-school program.

 “All the kids know Brett and he’s worked with all of them so it was very cool,” Clayton said.

 Granger Elementary was originally built on a former park so while the soccer field was removed, the tennis courts remained.

 “[The school] is a beautiful building and facility but because those tennis courts were left over from the previous park, there was this disjointedness and now it’s just beautiful,” Clayton said.

 With the mini-pitches in place of the tennis courts, the school stands to benefit from its newfound resource.

 Over 1,000 kids go to Granger Elementary from pre-school to sixth grade with only one gym so the additional space will create more flexibility for them.

 Soccer for Success, US Soccer Foundation’s after-school program, will work in conjunction with the school’s program for the next few years where six-week camps will be run to improve students’ health.

 “What we really appreciate is it’s a continuing effort…they’ve made a commitment to continue on so the kids get some real experience with the sport as well,” Clayton said.

 Clayton said she was very impressed with the level of detail that the RSL foundation and its director, Mary Vanminde, have applied to this ongoing effort. After the grand opening, RSL returned a few weeks later to install a fence between courts to stop balls from one pitch affecting the other. They also left paint and instruction on how to fix touchups.

 “It’s super cool, they haven’t left any of the details out. They thought of everything,” Clayton said.  

 The pitch is also meant to encourage play within the community, whether it’s organized or not.

 “We want to give every child in Utah the chance to develop skills and it doesn’t come because you’ve got money, it comes because you’ve got passion,” Hansen said.

 McAdams said the pitch provides kids a chance to be a kid, and hopefully important aspects for their future.

 “The freedom to play leads to ability, it leads to confidence and a desire to be physically active for life,” McAdams said.

“That would be cool if this pitch worked as a prototype for others around the community,” Clayton said.

 West Valley City, the community and most notably the students, stand to enjoy the new facility for years to come.

 “I can’t wait to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they come back,” Clayton said.     λ