Evolving sports find their home in Alton

ALTON — Alton celebrated fun and games on Saturday as a mini soccer field was officially opened at Rock Springs Park.

The $120,000 court, the size of a tennis court, was funded by the Rotary Club of Alton-Godfrey. It provides a place to practice football skills in a smaller space, and its location next to Alton Middle School provides a great opportunity for school-aged kids to use the facility.

Damian Jones of Student Athletes Leading Tomorrow (SALT), the organization that spearheaded the project, said the mini-pitch is part of a nationwide US Soccer Foundation program that takes soccer to new places.

“It’s aimed at bringing football to cities where space is limited and a full-size football pitch may not be an option,” Jones said. “These mini-pitches are great both for revitalizing areas that may be underutilized and for bringing play to cities so kids have a safe place to play the game.”

Jones said now was the perfect time to open the mini football pitch.

“It correlates with major league football coming to St. Louis, and it’s also a World Cup year, so there’s huge interest in football,” Jones said. “North America will host the World Cup in 2026, so there is going to be a tsunami of interest in football in this country and this region.”

The facility also has a teqball table. Aficionados of the football-table tennis hybrid sport are looking to include it in future Olympics. Several young soccer players from the region tried the specially curved table for the first time on Saturday to experience the new sport for themselves.

Created in Hungary in 2012, teqball can be played with two or four players. Teqball allows players a maximum of three touches before returning the ball to the opponent, so those who know how to juggle a soccer ball should also be good at teqball.

Alton-Godfrey Rotary Club president Antoine Williams said the club is proud to sponsor the new facility.

“When Damian Jones first presented this to us as an idea for one of our club’s projects, we were already convinced,” Williams said. “The Rotary Club does a lot for our children, so it was already a ‘yes’ from the board of directors before he pleaded his case.”

Alton Mayor David Goins was pleased to welcome the new sporting opportunity to the town.

“This is a great addition to our community, and I commend Damian Jones for his vision and leadership and all the people who supported him in making this a reality,” Goins said. “You don’t need a lot of space for that, and that’s what’s so cool.”

Area football players and coaches were on hand Saturday to try out the mini-pitch, and Alton High School girls’ football coach Gwen Sabo said it was a win- win for the community.

“It’s going to help young kids get excited about football, and when players start at a younger age, they develop more skills and are more excited for the game,” Sabo said. “It’s going to trickle down and help us in high school, and middle school now has a co-ed football team as well.”

Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a native of East St. Louis, was a special guest at Saturday’s grand opening and told those gathered that the mini-pitch is a great addition to the community for a a number of reasons.

“It’s going to give our youngsters the opportunity to be exposed not only to how to play football, but also how to win in life,” said Joyner-Kersee. “Talk about a great facility, and you have Alton High School above, so the kids can come and play.”

“Participating in sports can help you set goals and learn to work together and be strategic,” Joyner-Kersee said. “It makes a difference when you have people giving of their time and their treasures and that’s what they do at Alton.”

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