McDonald’s of Southern California and Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) partnered up on June 24 with local non-profit organizations to bring LA Street Soccer Fest to children living in underserved areas of Los Angeles County’s District 15. The soccer tournament for kids ages 6 to 17 took place in Watts.

This marks SSUSA’s first annual event and McDonald’s second sponsorship of the year. The first was hosted by San Diego Rotary Cup Youth Soccer earlier in June.

The mission behind the events is to provide young soccer players, many of whom are Latino, access to sports, in this case, soccer, and to provide them coaching and mentoring opportunities as they learn and work toward improving their long-term academic and professional skills. The bottom line is that the access provides a link to more than sports, offering players lessons in communication, creativity, collaboration, independence, self-confidence and mutual respect for peers and themselves.

Street Soccer USA Los Angeles Program Director, Luca Marton speaking during the LA Street Soccer Fest. Photo Courtesy of @imagerybyoscar

“We are continuing our mission of providing free access to high-quality soccer instruction and competition to our communities that have for too long been left without,” said Los Angeles SSUSA Program Director Lucas Marton.

Marton’s plan to achieve the mission includes hosting more community events across the city and bringing high-quality instruction to the young players. “By providing resources, creating consistent programs and high-quality community events like this, right in our player’s backyards, we eliminate the greatest barriers to entry, from transportation to childcare,” Marton said. 

McDonald’s of Southern California is currently working on a more extensive initiative to increase equity in youth sports across the region, reaching the communities whose youth currently have no easy access to professional sports training programs.  

“As local McDonald’s owners and operators, it’s important to support the communities we serve every day,” said Southern California McDonald’s owner-operator Nicole Harper Rawlins.

One of these communities is Watts. 

Rawlins said that Watts, where the majority of the population is primarily Black and Brown, is a place McDonald’s has been part of for a long time and maintains close ties with. “Watts is a community that we have been a part of for decades, with an overwhelming number of our staff being local community members,” Rawlins said. 

Rawlins expressed her support of the work SSUSA does to bring opportunities to the youth and, in particular, the special connection between the McDonald’s corporation and the young players of Watts.

“With our McDonald’s restaurants, we have a unique connection to the youth in our cities, so it only makes sense to support Street Soccer USA in their mission of encouraging the importance of play and creating opportunities for all to have access to team sports such as soccer throughout South Los Angeles,” Rawlins said. 

According to Marton, the soccer tournament was a success and brought together more than 100 youth participants, as family members and local residents cheered loudly from the stands. 

House of Braid stylist braiding young girl’s hair during the LA Street Soccer Fest. Photo Courtesy of @ImagerybyOscar

After the game, players were offered free face paintings and carnival soccer-themed games, as well as free “champion haircuts” and braids provided by two local businesses, the House of Braid and The Lonely Barber.

Members from local partner organizations of SSUSA, such as the Think Watts Foundation and Watts Chosen Angels, came out and supported the community outreach and handed out free clothes, diapers and toys. The organizations also shared information on local recreation, education and community support programs.

South LA program soccer teams meet at the Watts Empowerment Center’s Imperial Courts on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., at Jordan Downs Recreation Center on Mondays from 2 to 4 p.m. and at Nickerson Gardens on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

Marton said that it is important to invite community members to join the local programs available at the center. “Feel free to come by and check us out,” he said.

The Think Watts Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to uplift under-resourced communities by providing a variety of resources and services, from weekly food drives to educational development, according to their mission statement. 

The founder of the Think Watts Foundation, Brandon Salaam-Bailey, also known as “STIX” came out and encouraged the youth to pursue their dreams, expressed the importance of “focus and concentration” to become successful, and aim to change the community that they grew up in

Los Angeles City District 15 Council member Tim McOsker and LA84, a nationally-recognized foundation that focuses on supporting the positive role of sport programs in youth development, thanked SSUSA and McDonald’s for their positive contributions to the community. 

McOsker said that he would like to unite the district as one big family. 

“We don’t live in Council District 15 anymore … we live in The One-Five: one district, five beautiful, beloved communities,” he said. During his speech, he encouraged the community to cheer and proclaim the value of Watts, both in English and Spanish, for its more than 70 percent Hispanic/Latino population.

“Let’s hear it for Watts! Watts is worth it! ¡Watts tiene valor!” McOsker said.

The LA Street Soccer Fest could not be complete without a professional soccer player being a part of the celebration. Angel City FC player and forward Simone Charley attended the festival to cheer on and motivate young footballers to have fun and strive for their dreams of becoming professional soccer players.

“I hope everyone here knows that soccer is for you, that you deserve to be out here and that if you work hard, you can be a professional soccer player, too,” Charley told the young players. “I’ll see you guys on the pitch someday!”

Erik Gadiel Gutiérrez is a freelance graphic designer, writer and photographer for CALÓ NEWS. He grew up in multiple cities including Mexico city, Mex. San Marcos, Calif. and Yorba Linda, Calif. He is...