ATLANTA - Six teams of elementary students had the chance to experience the thrill of representing their schools on the field when Atlanta Public Schools' inaugural Positive Choice Soccer game days kicked off in September. A Soccer in the Streets initiative designed to pair on-field skills and life lessons, Positive Choice programs opened up the APS fall season with two sets of matches to test what the girls and boys learned in a friendly, encouraging environment.
"This is our first week of APS games and I have been floored with the excitement shown by players, coaches, and even parents," said Lauren Desmond, the school-based program manager for Soccer in the Streets. "For a lot of the players, this is the first time they're playing on a real team with official games."
Soccer in the Streets has previously performed APS outreach during physical education classes and field days and supported middle school programs with coaching education and other logistical help, but Positive Choice's opening week marked the first official competitive soccer outlet for the APS elementary schools.
Girls teams officially kicked off the fall elementary school season Thursday afternoon with a few games apiece at Dunbar Elementary and Harper-Archer Middle School. Boys followed up by taking their turn for competitive action on Friday. During the fall season, schools will match up every other week while continuing to hone their skills in training between games.
Schools like Towns, Scott and more proudly showed off their inaugural soccer teams on social media, and community support showed up in a major way at both fields to cheer on the young players. A photo gallery from the opening week of matches is live now on Facebook.
"This is a fun-filled day where players have the opportunities to showcase the soccer and life lessons they have been learning at practice," Desmond said. "It also allows for a way for elementary schools to connect with one another in the school district."
During the fall season in APS, elementary schools were split up into two geographic clusters to make game day run more smoothly and establish connections between players, coaches and parents. Students from Atlanta-area middle schools also had a chance to try out some on-the-job training as referees.
APS Positive Choice Soccer - Fall 2016
M. Agnes Jones
F. L. Stanton
Westside Atlanta Charter
Practices began on individual campuses in late August, giving the Positive Choice teams plenty of time to mesh and get ready . Positive Choice players generally take the field twice per week, including regular practice sessions and games every other Thursday or Friday.
"The players have been working really hard to improve their soccer skills, leading up to playing games," Desmond said. "It's also obvious that the coaches have become more confident and organized coaching their respective soccer teams."
Desmond joined the Soccer in the Streets team full-time this summer to coordinate all aspects of the organization's school-based expansion. A combination of full-time teachers and certified community coaches have stepped up to help Desmond lead the way for kids within the APS Positive Choice Soccer programs.
"I have learned that the teachers and community members have been very supportive of the program," Desmond said. "They are so happy to be able to offer this to their students. The Positive Choice program would not be possible with out the support of the the individuals who have stepped up to coach and help organize the school teams.
"A lot of the players were excited to start a sport they may not have necessarily played before because it was not something that has been offered in the past. I am looking forward to many more seasons to come."