No sport has exploded in popularity in the last 30 years in America like soccer. What was once a sport squarely on the fringe of the mainstream has become on par with such staples as basketball and baseball. It hasn’t reached the levels of football — the American kind — in the United States, but its popularity continues to trend upwards.
The Golden Isles is among the places where the sport thrives. At the high school level, Glynn Academy and Frederica Academy’s boys and girls squads are routinely among the best in their classification, and Brunswick High is starting to develop the players needed to compete.
Then, of course, is Morgan Brian Gautrat. The Frederica alum dominated with the Knights, was a star at Virginia and a member of two U.S. World Cup champion teams. She’s currently a midfielder for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Even with a World Cup champion hailing from the Isles, it is possible that the biggest impact soccer has made on our community is in a nonprofit organization looking to help kids in need. That is what Coastal Outreach Soccer has done since it was started as an after-school program nearly 17 years ago. The organization has grown immensely, leading to moments like Thursday when it held a grand opening for a new futsal court in Perry Park. Futsal is a form of indoor soccer played between two teams of five.
Funding for the project came from a matching one-for-one grant through the Atlanta United Foundation’s Georgia 100 project. Atlanta United is among the most popular teams in Major League Soccer.
COS had to match the funds raised, collecting $100,000 for the project to go with $67,500 from the United. Raising that amount of money shows how much the community is behind the work COS is doing. Former Brunswick High football star and NFL defensive back Darius Slay is among the program’s biggest believers as he often donates his time and money to the cause.
Coastal Outreach Soccer isn’t just about soccer. The program also helps the athletes with their academic goals. The program’s athletes have a 100 percent graduation rate since 2014, with many receiving academic and athletic scholarships for college.
We are grateful for the work that COS founder and executive director Shawn Williams and all of the program’s volunteers have done to make this organization so successful. It has benefited the Isles in ways that are both visible, like the new court, and invisible, like making sure kids who might have slipped through the cracks graduate on time. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for the organization and the soccer players it produces.