The soccer field was a scene of utter chaos. Orange was defending Yellow's goal, one right halfback was doing a headstand well out of bounds, the defenders were doing each other's hair, and two balls were in play.
But it was good for Sabrina Bryant, 9, who was out of breath and flushed from the frenetic soccer clinic, one of the first given on the grassy field of her Southeast D.C. recreation center. "I love soccer. You exercise, and you get to kick the ball and run around. It's fun," Sabrina said, reviewing her brush with learning some soccer rudiments.
The area's professional soccer team, DC United, brought some stars and dozens of soccer balls to the city's recreation center at Barry Farms yesterday to run the community clinic -- the kind they've been giving all over the region's suburbs. But this site is different from Manassas or Columbia. This was held for a Southeast D.C. elementary school not far from the riverfront site that DC United would like as the home for its new stadium.
"It's no secret we're looking to build a stadium out there," said Kyle Sheldon, a communications coordinator for the team. "This is another step in the direction of becoming good neighbors."
The proposal to build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point along the Anacostia River received a chilly reception from the neighborhood's D.C. Council member, Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). Several months ago, Barry said that it was a poor use of the land and that he is "absolutely, unequivocally" opposed to it.
So the team management began talking to community leaders and found that the loudest cry they heard wasn't for more charity work, like the canned food and book drives underway. They didn't even hear too much opposition to the stadium. "They wanted more opportunities for kids to play organized sports," said Doug Hicks, spokesman for D.C. United. So they started with yesterday's soccer clinic, where 300 kids signed up to come back in the spring for a team.
The ultimate plan, the way to win the hearts and minds of kids more familiar with basketball and football, will be a D.C. youth soccer league sponsored and run by DC United, Hicks said.
But yesterday, the first step was to get the basics down.
"You can't touch the ball with your hands. They told me that," said Demonte Fowler, 7, whose cornrow braids capped with skull-shaped beads bounced and flew as he ran up and down the field. "I usually play football. Baseball is good. I think soccer is good. I like being the goalie, 'cause then I get to touch the ball with my hands."
Others weren't so enthusiastic.
"I don't know about this game. You don't stop! Ever! How about stopping?" complained Takia Thomas, 10, after heading for the sidelines, gasping for breath. "How come they keep running?"
After running without a strategy or even a goal, kicking the balls in grand, swooping arcs all over the field, some of the kids set their sights on the celebrities. They hounded players for autographs, shuffling and trading cards. "What does a 'forward' mean?" one girl asked, puzzling over Alecko Eskandarian's card. Many weren't sure who the players were. One boy asked the spokesman to autograph his T-shirt. The spokesman obliged.