In Georgia Mill Town, soccer offers a new opportunity

Dalton, Ga. – Older people are more often white and carry pizza and portable stadium seats in order to lift their backs. Young mothers are mostly Spanish, and some sleep babies press against their breasts. Students and parents are here too. Much of Whitefield County is packed into Bill Chapel Stadium for the Spring Festival: boys’ annual soccer showdown between El Clasico, County rivals Dalton High School and South East Whitefield High School.

The match is a celebration of the highest level of football: each team rules as the state champion in its class and is ranked in the top 10 nationally. But the game is very important: it shows how immigration and a white and black soccer ball have transformed the city into the Appalachian foothills of Georgia.

To understand what this place has become like, look at the soccer field, where for 80 minutes the two teams performed a junior belt, in which the ball was seemingly moving from one wheel to the other. The only person on both teams who was not Latin was Dalton coach Matt Cheaves, who came here 28 years ago to preach football and found students in first-generation immigrants who were raised on the game.

Tune in to “Monday Night Fútbol”, a high school recipe program at WDNN, or study the side walls of the Oakwood Café, with its impressive history of Dalton, which has long been known as the “Carpet Capital of the World.” Has been (More than 80% of U.S.-made tufted carpets are produced in and around Dalton.) But so is a football bullet.

Or visit James Brown Park, where “Cages”, as the retrofitted tennis courts are known, are packed with kids ages 6-, 8- and 10, who play fast-fire soccer matches for up to five. The winners remain.

Only then can you understand how this city of about 35,000 – now 53% Hispanic – became a possible hub for the slowdown in US soccer and now calls itself Soccer Town USA.

It may not be as full of chest as the title “Home to more millionaires per person than any other city in the United States”, which Dalton held in the 1970s. It’s not as sexy as the “hometown of killer gurus,” as the headline in the Washington Post announced in 1990 when a beloved daughter, Marla Maples, joined a married New York developer named Donald Trump.

Still, this new identity has been diligently achieved, not only on the football fields, but also on the factory floor, town hall, and surrounding areas, whose population has expanded.

“We came here to work in Milan,” said Juan Azawa, a field services consultant whose family came from a dozen Spanish families who came here in the 1970s. “My parents called their brothers and cousins ​​and told them that there was work here. It was as if Boom, in another wave, was stuck in the city and kept coming.

Migrant workers who were needed in mills all the time, were not so happy when jobs were down. After the recession, Georgia passed a law to create an Immigration Information Review Board to investigate city complaints about municipalities not applying to immigration law. The sheriff used the roadblock to smuggle people into paper and hand them over to the federal government for deportation.

American Groner, president of the Coalition of Latin Leaders in Dalton, said hundreds of undocumented families moved to the city from 2009 to 2012. About 30 percent of the Spanish population remains unauthorized, he said.

“It was kind of a ghost town because people were scared they should be stopped, detained and deported,” said Garner. “It was hard on the children who feared that their parents would leave and they would stay here.

Georgia has since passed the Immigration Information Review Board, but Garner said anti-immigrant sentiments are intact in Whitefield County, where Trump won 70% of the vote in the 70th and 2016 presidential elections.

Still, there are victories: Dalton recently broke ground on a football complex that includes two FIFA regulation-size turf fields.

“I couldn’t imagine the football field being built a few years ago,” said Garner. “We feel anti-immigrant feeling in sports and in our culture. That is slowly changing. It’s not perfect We have a long way to go. But there is more understanding.

Approximately 2,800 people are here to watch the Dalton High School catamants compete with the Southeast Whitefield High School Raiders on a hot Thursday night. Of course, the most famous Classico is, of course, any match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the rivalry here is intense and the cousins ​​against the club and club team players against each other.

On the pre-game side, Schweiz is a comfortable presence for his players. Her hair is down under the cap, her enthusiasm softly talked to Southern Light. He fell in love with football at the age of 5 and played at the high school and college club level.

“I thought it was a blast when I first hit the ball,” Schweiz said. “I was good at it and thought I had to do something.”

He arrived here in the summer of 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the University of West Georgia. He hoped to make a difference as a football coach, making him an outlier in a state where football is king.

“I grew up with older coaches who thought you were playing a communist game,” said Schweiz.

Within days of his arrival, he discovered the Dalton Soccer League, informally known as the Mexican League. On a field near the high school, Shivs Middle School exchanges two teams of nifty passes as if the ball was on a rope.

“There was talent, a lot of speed and a work ethic,” he said. “I didn’t need to develop the basic skills, but just keep them sharp.”

The challenge was getting them to come out for the high school team.

Schweiz’s first team had six Spanish players. One is Roy Alwaran, 43, the son of a migrant worker who picks orange and peach in a bag of 50 cents before finding a stable, salaried job in Dalton. Alvarran liked football but felt pressured to follow what he called the “Mexican way”. High school athletics and college ambitions were not in the way, he said.

“You finish school, get married, raise a kid who is 18 or 19, and go to work in a carpet mill,” said Alwaraan. “Mexican way – so this is what I did.”

Alvarran, Azua and another friend, Todd Hudgins, are informal football historians in Whitefield County. They competed against each other in high school – played for the Azwa Riders, for Higgins North Westfield High School. Together, they host “Monday Night Football.”

Chained to the lake fire on the sideline, friends were still competing as they reminisced.

“The last three times we played Dalton, it ended in a relationship,” said Azwa, whose cousin is the head coach of the South East Whitefield team.

“The tie is like a loss to us,” said Alvaran, the current president of the Dalton Soccer League.

Dalton High School is a marvel of history. Catamounts played in the first season of the Cheaves and Alvarran. The next year, a few more Hispanic athletes showed up for the effort, and a few more each year after that. In 2003, Dalton won the school’s first state football championship with an All-Spanish team.

The victories are buzzing: In the Shies era, Dalton is 436-59-19.

So did the state title: The Catamounts were 64-0 on three incredible seasons that ended with the title in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2019, they were undefeated in 23 games, earning their fifth title and the No. 1 nationally at the end of the season. Covid-19 ended the 2020 season, but Dalton returned last year to add a sixth championship.

Along the way, Schweiz has passed away opportunities to land large jobs. “I don’t want to be thrown around,” he said. “I want to make a difference in life. I like to see people around the city and what they have done.

The success of Dalton’s football program has transformed expectations beyond the field.

In the past four years, Dalton has sent more than a dozen players to college on a scholarship, including one that went to Wake Forest.

Alvarran’s son, Jacob, a senior at Catamounts, hopes to play at Dalton State. Roy Alvarn never went to college, but he did mills and now sells insurance.

“I want him to keep going to school, not to jump in the carpet mill,” said Alvaran. “You can’t hate them because they make $ 15-plus an hour. It saved my family, but there are other ways to make money.

The consistency offered by regular paychecks in companies like Shaw and Mohawk Industries maintains a powerful grip on New Daltonians. But now many are focused on a different path.

“Every kid on the field can play at some level in college,” Azawa said. “They all have the opportunity. The question is, will they accept the offer? And will their parents allow them?

“Our community,” the wall adjacent to the Oakwood Café in downtown Dalton, is the work of Michele Meza, whose family emigrated from Mexico. This was revealed in early March when the artist spent four months on the ladder with a brush in hand. Meza’s commission was to reflect Dalton’s past, present, and future.

The first woman on the carpet includes; Carpet roll; A kicker, for love outside the city; And a train, the impact of railroads on expanding Georgia’s multi-billion dollar textile industry.

The two highlight elements are more personalized to Meza. Capturing her city to highlight diversity and women’s empowerment, she recruited young girls – white, black, Hispanic, Indian and Asian.

Then there’s the young goalkeeper.

“This is my son Isaac,” said Meza, watching from a sore throat as he walked the last minute of the Clasico.

With his diving save and last-minute exhaustion, Isaac Meza was one step ahead of the Raiders for 78 minutes, and was at Dalton High School, 3-1. But Southwestern didn’t believe anything, and with 1 minute 14 seconds left, Raiders Nathan Villanova fell behind in Dalton’s defense. Miza went ahead, but the ball went in front of him.

His mother was shocked and the South Whitefield Grand Street was over – it was 3-2, and the Riders were still alive.

With 18 seconds remaining, Raiders Angel Garcia stepped in for a free kick. He shot a shot over the wall of the Catamounts in front of the goal. The ball was pushed to the left. Meza jumped. His fingers brushed the ball, but it slipped softly into the corner of the net.

In the language of football, Garcia Had delivered a full upper 90General Chat Chat Lounge

Miley went ahead to wear Meza a lace. For the fourth consecutive time, El Clasico had finished in a tie.

The next morning, Alvarran was able to stay in good spirits. It was not the victory he had hoped for. Instead, Soccer Town was the perfect finish to the USA’s denizens

“I have to count that we’ve been connected for a year,” he said. “It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to every season, and the kids from both teams never fail us. Both teams are good, but when they play each other, they bring out the best in each other. I hope you will see how excitedly this competition is played out, but also how it unites our community.

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