sports 4 days ago

Billionaire Ken Griffin, Chicago Fire lead effort to build 50 new mini soccer fields

Chicago Tribune — Tim Bannon Chicago Tribune

Dec. 06--Ken Griffin describes himself as a "big-time soccer fan."

"I've played soccer pretty much my entire life," said Griffin, the richest person in Illinois. "I'm a huge fan. I've been coaching my son for several years. My girls play. ... Soccer is a team sport. That's really important."

Griffin, along with the Chicago Fire, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the city of Chicago, have joined forces to build 50 mini-fields in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago over the next five years. The official announcement was made Wednesday afternoon at Gage Park on the Southwest Side, where two of the tennis court-sized fields were built this summer.

"It's another investment in our neighborhoods," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. "It's what parents want to see for their kids, which is a great sport, safe sport in a safe space."

These court-sized fields will have an asphalt surface, soccer lines, small goals and a surrounding fence to keep the ball contained. Each will cost roughly $60,000 to build.

In addition to the fields, the Soccer Foundation plans to offer after-school soccer programs, training and leagues.

"These mini-pitches will transform the everyday lives of Chicagoland children, and further grow the passion for soccer across our city," Fire owner Andrew Hauptman said in a statement.

"Soccer is a game every young girl and boy can pick up," Griffin, the billionaire hedge fund manager who contributed $3 million for this project, told the Tribune. "I can see it in my colleagues who played in team sports, how that just helps them advance in their career. They understand how to collaborate and how to get things done."

Emanuel said he played freshman soccer at New Trier High School. In the offseason, he said he took ballet to improve his soccer skills and footwork. "Then," he said, "I realized I was better at ballet than I was at soccer."

Griffin said he played soccer (primarily midfield) for many years in Chicago-area men's leagues, but after six knee surgeries he finally had to hang up his cleats.

"(After the last surgery) my surgeon said: 'You're now going to be a cyclist.' "

tbannon@chicagotribune.com

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