If you look around Music City, you’ll notice a number of defining characteristics: citizens who love their local sports teams, vibrant immigrant communities, neighborhoods that demonstrate Nashville is much more than the outsider’s view of Lower Broad, vibrant immigrant communities (whether from around the country or around the globe).
One thing that you may not notice is a ton of space to play the world’s most popular game. Although Nashville is home to a Major League Soccer team and immigrants from across Latin America, North Africa, and the Middle East (just to name a few of the places where soccer is the most popular sport), the opportunity to play in the community is limited. Park space and availability are among the many challenges.
Bonadies Sporting Alliance is out to help change that by building mini-pitches across the region.
“The overall goal is to just increase soccer facilities and the density of them, especially in Nashville,” said principal Matt Bonadies. “As you know, the representation of the sport in the city is absolutely abysmal. It’s kind of embarrassing if you look at other capital cities around the country. The goal is to change that and to, if a kid wants to go to a turf field and play soccer, he actually has options. Instead of having Rose Park as the sole option – and then the hit-or-miss if there’s a youth football team practicing out there – there should be options.”
The Alliance – a non-profit organization founded by Bonadies, a project manager in the construction industry by day – has set out to increase the opportunities to play for soccer lover in the community. The first project, at Tom Joy Elementary School in East Nashville, is complete, while the second will install a mini-pitch at Fall-Hamilton elementary. The latter is across the street from The Fairgrounds Nashville, the future home of Nashville Soccer Club.
It’s no coincidence that the initial community partner has been Metro Public Schools. The opportunity for the pitches to be not just built, but actually used is a perfect fit.
“It all started when I went over to the one at MacGruder Center over in North Nashville,” Bonadies explained. “Absolutely loved what was going on up there, but was pretty disappointed at the lack of activity. So that’s kind of where the school concept came into play. I though, ‘what’s preventing kids from going to facilities like this?’ And it’s mainly transportation, is what I found. So why not just bring the mini-pitch to the kids, where they’re already bused day-in and day-out. That’s kind of why I went with the whole school setup.
“The reason why I wanted to start with mini-pitches is really because it doesn’t require a ton of upstart capital to get those going, especially if you can partner with the landowner. In this case, that’s obviously Metro Schools. I kind of realized just how simple mini-pitches were. There’s like four components, and that’s it. So it’s not a massive strategic undertaking. It requires a core group of people who can get in there and get it done. If it’s during the school year, that poses a ton of challenges because you’ve got to work around kids with a massive piece of equipment, which is not an insurance agent’s dream. So I was happy to be able to kind of merge what I was doing and who I was working with in with this community-led effort.”
“All of our mini-pitch projects will be listed on our website as we kind of work through the Metro School system. We want to do it one at a time just so we don’t have 50 of these going and they’re just kind of slowly trickling along fundraising-wise. We’re going live on the website with a built-in fundraising tool for the Fall Hamilton mini-pitch. There’s the donate tool through that, and I’m also – and this is very preliminary – but I’m also trying to work with community partners to find other locations outside of schools.”
Some of the other partners for Bonadies Sporting Alliance include the US Soccer Foundation, Nashville Soccer Truster, and (friends-of-the-blog) Kickin’ it 615. Growing the soccer community by improving the opportunity to play – for school-age children, as well as the community writ large – is the goal. The philosophy is to Atlanta’s Soccer in the Streets. It’s no coincidence that Bonadies went to high school in Metro Atlanta before heading to Middle Tennessee State on a football scholarship, and had a little jealousy of his former home.
Going forward, the project’s goals are ambitious.
“You asked about kind of the overall goal: it’s not just mini-pitches,” he said. “The end goal is providing not only kids, but the community as a whole with a place to play the game all the time, and not just a place that collects a lease or requires a permit to play at the facility. One of the items that’s in the end-goal is to own and operate kind of a large-scale indoor facility that had multi-field use within the building.”
For a Nashville community whose hunger for the game helped land a Major League Soccer team – with record attendance in its only full-capacity home game to-date – there’s plenty to like.
Head to the BSA website to see how you can help get involved with the cause.