It’s not everyday that soccer can change lives, but this is exactly what happened Thursday night in Chester.
Anyone that has ever been to a Union game understands the city that the team calls home. PPL Park may be a grandiose architectural marvel but it looks down on a small, urban town that has seen its share of trouble.
Times were hard for Chester in the past, crime was rampant and tension within the community was being reported nationwide, something had to change.
At the same time that Chester was taking a turn for the worse the Philadelphia Union chose Chester as the place where they wanted to start to their soccer journey. This was a monumental decision for the city of Chester because it meant that not only would thousands of people flood their city on weekends, but more importantly there were going to be thousands of jobs now open community members in desperate need of a fresh start.
The “Union” between soccer and Chester was born.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) August 14, 2014
Five years later Chester has proven to be a perfect home for a professional soccer team, and many of Chester’s own work in various positions throughout PPL Park. Since the city has been such a gracious host it was time for the Union to give back to the community it calls home.
This came to fruition on Thursday night when the Philadelphia Union, the Philadelphia Union Foundation, and the Chester-Upland School District partnered to launch the Safe Playground at Showalter School in the heart of Chester.
Basking in the late summer evening air Chester residents and Union staff came together under the necessity to create a safer Chester. The Mayor of Chester John Linder and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz were on hand to offer words of appreciation for what the soccer team is trying to do for the community.
But the night was truly about the kids.
In places like Chester soccer is rarely the sport of choice, in fact many residents don’t know anything about it because of its lack of exposure to the national market. The Union is looking to change all this for the young people of Chester and starts with things like the Safe Playground initiative. If you ever visit Showalter School the first thing you will see is a field, but this not your typical grade school back yard.
This field has two nets, freshly cut grass, and is enclosed with signs similar to what you would see around the field at PPL, it looks like a youth training ground for a European soccer team.
A field that on Thursday night was teeming with youngsters kicking and chasing soccer balls, a sight that five years ago would have been impossible to see, which makes it all the more beautiful. The residents of Chester looked on with smiles from ear to ear, the air smelled of hot dogs and happiness, it was a moment in the city’s history that may prove to be truly special.
For right now it’s a start, the Safe Playground is a representation of everyone in the city saying no to violence and yes to progression, in the words of Mayor Linder “it’s the perfect representation of unity in the community.”
It’s fitting that the name of the professional soccer team that calls Chester home is the Union because that is just what was on display on Thursday.
A Union that steps outside of the realm of soccer and understands giving back is always a good way to move forward.
Contact Union writer Doug Ammon at firstname.lastname@example.org