Posted on Sun, Aug. 20, 2006
For homeless, soccer tournament is chance at a way out
By Michele Wayman
McClatchy Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Earl Taylor isn't a soccer guy. He'd rather play basketball.

But soccer got him out of an Atlanta homeless shelter and brought him to Charlotte for a four-day stay.

And, it could get him a trip to Cape Town, South Africa.

"I am learning that soccer is very difficult," says Taylor, 24.

Huffing, puffing and drenched in sweat after a game against Pennsylvania on Saturday, he says he's not in top playing form.

"I'm having a good time, though."

Taylor and nine other players, two coaches and a trainer drove from Atlanta in a rental van last week for the first Homeless USA Cup, a four-on-four street soccer tournament.

In all, 56 players from Charlotte, New York City, Pennsylvania, Washington and elsewhere are staying at local churches and playing in the cup.

Covenant Presbyterian Church on Morehead hosted Friday practices and a pizza party.

Players sweated through a parade and a full day of games at Third and Tryon streets Saturday, while volunteers, other players and a few spectators watched from canopy-shaded bleachers. They played another round Sunday.

All players are homeless or have been in the past year. The top eight players at this weekend's tournament will go to the Homeless World Cup.

Lawrence Cann, the man behind this event, said these aren't winos and panhandlers pulled off the street to play soccer.

Some are standout players who have a good chance of pulling together a winning team in Cape Town. Others are simply good ambassadors.

They show the range of ages and backgrounds of people who don't have homes.

The Charlotte soccer team is a program of Urban Ministry Center, a nonprofit funded by businesses, interfaith groups and private donations.

It takes about $1,800, a fraction of the center's budget, says Cann, the center's art program director who puts in extra time for soccer.

The Street Soccer 945 program, named after Urban Ministry Center's address, sent a Charlotte team to the Homeless World Cup in Scotland last year. When Cann came back, his goal was to create a U.S. tournament and launch it in Charlotte.

Businesses and other sponsors are covering the cost of this weekend's events. But organizers still want to raise $20,000 to send the final eight players to Cape Town on Sept. 24 and provide a stipend to the players when they get back.

Charlotte's team is one of the more established homeless soccer programs in the country, but Atlanta players are new.

Their coach, David Jones, is a substance abuse counselor who was once homeless himself. He started recruiting for the Atlanta team about four months ago.

He pulled in Taylor, who said he made some bad choices and ended up on the streets. He knows men who settle for days in food lines and nights in shelters.

Not him, though. He wants to get out and go back to school. The soccer team seemed like a good step.

"It's about giving back, giving them some hope that they can get their lives together," Jones said.



Teams of four (three players and a goalie) face off on a 72-by-52-foot field. A game is two eight-minute halves.

Tournament organizers will choose the top eight players and eight alternates for the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.