Monday, March 30, 2009
Charlottean converts mall's ice rink for ‘futsal' and hopes the game appeals to youths, especially African Americans.
By Tonya Jameson
Posted: Thursday, Mar. 26, 2009
Charlotte businessman Akbar Majeed has converted the old ice rink at Eastland Mall into soccer fields. On Saturday, Carnival Day will celebrate the new facility with free entertainment and cultural activities. PHOTO COURTESY OF DIRK WEAVER
Growing up in Charlotte, Akbar Majeed played club soccer until he reached high school.
Soccer, he said, wasn't cool for black kids. “It's not socially acceptable in our community,” said Majeed, a West Charlotte High graduate.
“Everybody in the world plays soccer, but African Americans.”
In the United States, the world's most popular sport is seen as an activity for suburban white youth and Hispanics – typically in separate leagues, said Majeed, the son of former City Council member Nasif Majeed.
Majeed, 36, hopes to change soccer's image among African American youth. He also wants to create a place where people of all ethnicities play soccer together.
Majeed is starting his soccer movement in east Charlotte where he has converted Eastland Mall's old ice rink into three indoor soccer fields called Concrete2Green Futsal Center.
On Saturday, Majeed will host Carnival Day to officially unveil the center. The event will offer a free clinic for youth ages 5-12 in the early afternoon and a tournament later. There will also be entertainment and exhibitions throughout the day.
Majeed opened the center in January for about a month. About 75-80 people of all ages and ethnicities played on the weekends. The center closed in February as Majeed, relatives, friends and students from Garinger High School installed two additional fields.
The center is winning early praise.
Darrell Bonapart, chairman of the Charlotte East Community Partners, stopped by the field several times. He said many youths and young men play and watch from the mall concourse above the field. Bonapart said he hopes city officials notice the venue's success because one idea for redevelopment of the mall includes adding a sports complex.
“It has been a tremendous boost,” said Bonapart. “Everyone was really surprised ... at how it's drawn the young men off the streets. It's been a great atmosphere.”
City Council member Nancy Carter agrees.
“It's entertainment. It's fun,” she said. “It's an activity for kids as well as adults. It's good a use of space.”
Futsal is an indoor version of soccer – less formal than the traditional game. Think of it like pickup basketball. Typically teams of four compete.
Majeed wants the center to feel as organic as a skate park. Local artists will create murals for the walls, and there will be deejays as well. The center will be available for open play on weekends. League play and beginner clinics will start in April. The facility is also available for rent.
If the futsal center is successful at Eastland, Majeed plans to use it as a model for other cities nationwide. He wants to place centers in areas with high minority populations.
“The eastside of Charlotte,” he said, “represents the changing face of the United States. It's more diverse.”