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Clayton Soccer using family atmosphere to increase participation

Some 8-year-olds competing in Clayton Soccer’s program. (Special Photo)

Some 8-year-olds competing in Clayton Soccer’s program. (Special Photo)

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Clayton Soccer has cultivated a family atmosphere. (Special Photo)

LOVEJOY — Clayton County isn’t considered a soccer haven.

But John Mondy and the Clayton County Department of Parks and Recreation are trying to change that perception.

One of the biggest ways Mondy and his staff are hoping to increase participation in soccer in the county is with renovations to the Gerald A. Matthews Complex, where all youth soccer events are held.

The site is undergoing a $1 million renovation. Those renovations include new irrigation throughout the park, new dirt and overall field improvements to better the quality of the playing surface.

“It’s going to make a really big difference when it’s all said and done,” said Mondy. “I’m really excited about everything that’s planned. There’s talks about replacing our playground as well.”

Half of the renovations have already finished, with the other half ongoing. Although the fields are closed at the moment, Mondy hopes they’ll be fully operational by Labor Day. Clayton Soccer annually hosts the Atlanta Cup, a nation-wide tournament sponsored by Publix, over Labor Day weekend.

The Atlanta Cup is a big revenue generator for the program. Mondy expects anywhere from 40 to 50 teams to take part in the tournament.

“The Atlanta Cup is a feather in our cap,” he said. “It’s such a big tournament. The staff and volunteers that work it are here all day long. We put a lot of hours in that weekend, but it’s well worth it. I believe we have the nicest complex on the south side.”

In a county where soccer isn’t always the first choice, elite facilities are a creative way to draw eyes to the program.

Soccer’s growing popularity also won’t hurt the cause, as Mondy saw a significant spike in interest after the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup last summer. Mondy hopes to use the upcoming 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup to create similar interest from female participants.

“We’re kind of in an uphill struggle to get kids due to other sports, but we expanded in our intake this past season,” said Mondy. “We’re hoping to continue that growth.”

Mondy also believes soccer is becoming an attractive alternative to parents worried about the dangers of other sports.

“It’s definitely becoming an alternative for kids today,” he said. “A lot of parents out there are more aware of the concussions and stuff in football. Not that it can’t happen in soccer, but it’s a much safer game as far as that’s concerned.”

Another way Mondy is trying to reach potential families is by giving his participants the most bang for their buck. Not only is Clayton Soccer one of the most affordable programs around, but players are issued a jersey, a pair of shorts, socks, shin pads, a soccer ball, a picture package and a postseason award upon signing up.

That package is attractive, but Clayton Soccer’s real value comes from the family atmosphere around the program. The amount of satisfied parents Mondy sees at the fields proves he’s on the right track.

“When you see parents with smiles on their faces after games and everybody is standing around hanging at the park, it builds that family atmosphere we are looking for,” said Mondy. “We strive for that and we’re finally starting to get it. It’s one big, happy family out there.”

Clayton Soccer isn’t done growing in numbers, but Mondy’s already cultivated an atmosphere that people will want to be around.

“The atmosphere is moving toward what we want,” he said.

With the continued growth of the game and the elite facilities at his disposal, Mondy is excited about the future of soccer in the county. He hopes to start an academy program that will provide specialized training, in hopes of becoming a feeder program for local high schools.

To do that, Clayton Soccer needs to continue to add players. Mondy urges the public to seek out information on what Clayton Soccer can provide families.

“Give soccer a try,” he said. “It’s different, but it’s a beautiful game once you learn it. Once you get it, it’s awesome. Keep soccer in mind when you’re looking for something else other than your typical sports.”

You can gather more information by visiting www.ClaytonParks.com or calling 770-473-5771.