The American Youth Soccer Organization in South Los Angeles is celebrating its diversity while also developing some of the country’s best athletes, but it's not without adversity.
When AYSO Region 1031 coach Nataka White was growing up in Compton, he didn't have access to a soccer field, proper goals or even a coach. But he's helping change that for hundreds of kids and teens in South LA.
"I've always said I will give back to my community," White said.
The AYSO in South LA does a lot to keep the sport of soccer accessible and connected to its community. It keeps costs down and provides scholarships to families.
Many of the athletes have played together for years. They have heart, skill and grit beyond their years.
AYSO South LA Region 1031 is one of the most diverse regions in the country. While these athletes love that about their teams, on the field they sometimes face difficult realities.
"They kind of come in with the mindset that we're going to be really violent, we're going to want to punch them, we're going to want to hit them, slide tackle them, play really dirty, but we're just coming out there to play soccer," Amber Grimes said.
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Some of the players arrive with situations that even leave their coaches speechless.
"They're crying in the middle of the game and I'm like 'what are you crying for?' And they’re just like 'well they just keep on calling me like a black monkey,'" White said.
"We're really learning our place especially in this sport, and it's hard sometimes," Chelsie Charles said.
But thankfully their coaches, families and teammates remind them their "place" is on that field.
"We're not getting angry about that," White said. "The best thing to do is to score."
The young athletes said they simply keep moving forward and putting the ball in the back of the net.
"At the end of the game we are going to shake their hand with a smile and note that no matter what you did and how you tried to tear me down we are still going to stay up," White said.
These athletes keep playing and fighting for each other, hoping to break barriers and reach goals.
"I want to strive to be on the women's national team," Charles said.
The group hopes to inspire the next generation of South LA soccer players to reach higher and dream bigger.
The soccer organization has about 1,000 athletes and just two play fields. Despite this, last year an all African-American girls team won the AYSO National Championship.
The organization is petitioning the city of LA to create three additional fields to accommodate its players.