Downtown Georgia Mill, Soccer Offers New Opportunity

DALTON, Ga. – Old people are often clean and carry pizza boxes and stadium chairs to lift their backs. Many young mothers are Spanish, and some even force babies to sleep on their breasts. Students and men are here, too. Many of Whitfield County filled Bill Chappell’s Stadium for spring: El Clásico, an annual boys’ soccer tournament between rivals Dalton High School and Southeast Whitfield High School.

The game is a celebration of high school football: Each team rules as a state champion in its ranks and is ranked in the top 10 nationwide. But the game has a deeper meaning: It shows how migrants with white and black football have transformed the city into the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia.

To understand what the venue has to offer, look at the football field, where for 80 minutes the two teams played a running ball, the ball swinging from a Velcroed-shaped foot to the other. The only person on the non-Latino team was Dalton Coach Matt Cheaves, who came here 28 years ago to preach football and found students in the first generations of immigrants who grew up in the sport.

Watch “Monday Night Fútbol,” a high school rehearsal program at WDNN, or study the art on the side of Oakwood Cafe, and its recorded history of Dalton, long known as “the capital of the world carpet.” (Over 80 percent of carpet made of tufted products in the United States are made in Dalton and surrounding areas.) Catherine Evans Whitener, often called Dalton’s first carpet mother, is pictured, as well as a soccer player.

Or go to James Brown Park, where the “cages,” as renovated tennis courts are known, are filled with 6-, 8- and 10-year-olds playing fast-paced soccer. The winner is the winner.

Only then will you understand how this town of about 35,000 people – now 53 percent of Spain – has become an unexpected place for America to slow down football and that is why it calls itself Soccer Town USA.

It would not be an act of pride as the title of “home to millions of people per capita than any other city in the United States,” which Dalton did in the 1970s. It does not look like “the hometown of murderous blondes,” as headline in The Washington Post announced in 1990 when the beloved daughter, Marla Maples, was in a relationship with New York City specialist Donald J. Trump.

However, this new information was hardly found, not only in soccer fields but also in factories, town halls, and the population.

“We came here to work in the mill,” says Juan Azua, a field service instructor whose family was one of the first of the 12 Spanish families who came here in the 1970’s. “My parents phoned the brothers them and their cousins ​​and told them that there was work here. It was like, boom, another wave hit the town and kept coming. ”

Immigrant workers who were wanted in prayer at the right time did not get jobs when jobs began to decline. Following the Great Depression, Georgia enacted a law establishing an Immigration Enforcement Review Board to investigate citizen complaints about municipalities not enforcing entry rules. Police used street fences to seize undocumented migrants and hand them over to government authorities for deportation.

America Gruner, president of the Coalition of Latino Leaders in Dalton, said hundreds of unregistered families had left the city from 2009 to 2012. Thirty percent of Spaniards remain illegal, he said.

“It was an abusive town because people were afraid of being stopped, arrested and evicted,” Gruner said. It was very difficult for the children who were afraid that their parents would be removed and left here.

Georgia has also resigned from the Immigration Enforcement Review Board, but Gruner said anti-immigration sentiment continues in Whitfield County, where Trump won 70 percent of the vote in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

However, victories do exist: Dalton recently made his debut on the FIFA football stadium.

“I can’t imagine a football stadium being built a few years ago,” Gruner said. “We felt we hated refugees in our sports and culture. It is slowly changing. It is not perfect. We have a long way to go. But there is also understanding. ”

About 2,800 people are here Thursday warm night to see Dalton High School Catamounts take over at Southeast Whitfield High School Raiders. The most popular Clásico, yes, is every game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the conflict here is even bigger and it confuses his family and relatives and the team players against each other.

On the pre-game side, Cheaves is a comforting presence for its players. His football hat is lowered to the ground, his motivation softly expressed by the Southern lilt. He started to love football when he was 5 years old and played in high school and college.

“I thought it was an explosion the first time I threw a ball,” Cheaves said. “I did well and I think I have something to do.”

She arrived here in the summer of 1994 with a degree in health and physical education from the University of West Georgia. He hoped to make a change as a football coach, to make him live outside the world where football is king.

“I grew up with old teachers who told you you were playing communist games,” Cheaves said.

A few days after his arrival, he won the Dalton Soccer League, also known as the League of Mexico. In a courtyard near the high school, Cheaves saw two groups of middle-class students exchanging the best permits as a ball in the ropes.

“There was talent, speed and hard work,” he said. I didn’t have to have the necessary skills, but I just encouraged them. “

The problem was getting them to go to the high school team.

The Cheaves first team included six Puerto Rican players. One was Roy Alvarran, 43, the son of a migrant worker who broke oranges and peaches in a 50-cent bag before finding a permanent, paid job in Dalton. Alvarran loved football but was forced to live what he called the “Mexican way.” High school sports and college ambitions were not on the road, he said.

“You finish school, get married, have an 18 or 19 year old and go to work in a mill,” Alvarran said. “The Mexican way – that’s what I did.”

Alvarran, Azua and another teammate, Todd Hudgins, are unofficial football historians in Whitfield County. They competed against each other in high school – Azua played for Raiders, Hudgins at Northwest Whitfield High School. Together, they do “Monday Night Fútbol.”

Leaning against the side wall of the chain, the friends were still competing with each other.

“The last three games we played in Dalton were over,” said Azua, whose cousin is head coach of Southeast Whitfield.

“Cord is like a waste for us,” said Alvarran, President of the Dalton Soccer League.

The history of Dalton High School is rich. The Catamounts made the playoffs in the Cheaves and Alvarran’s first season. The following year, some Spanish players came to try, and others every year thereafter. In 2003, Dalton won the first school football competition with the entire Spanish team.

Success goes beyond quantity: In the Cheaves era, Dalton is 436-59-19.

Similarly for government titles: The Catamounts were 64-0 over three undefeated seasons that ended with titles, in 2013, 2014 and 2015.. The Covid-19 ended in the 2020 season, but Dalton returned last year to extend his sixth round of competition.

Along the way, Cheaves offered the opportunity to go to great projects. “I did not want to jump,” he said. “I wanted to change my lifestyle. I love seeing the guys around town and what they’ve done. ”

The success of the Dalton football program has changed expectations beyond the sector.

Over the past four years, Dalton has sent more than a dozen players to college on academic subjects, including those who went to Wake Forest.

Alvarran’s son Jacob, a senior at Catamounts, is hoping to play for Dalton State. Roy Alvarran did not go to college, but left the mill and is now selling insurance.

“I want him to continue going to school, not jump in the bandwagon,” Alvarran said. “You can’t hate it because they make $ 15 – plus an hour. It saved my family, but there are other ways to earn money.”

The stability provided by regular payments to companies such as Shaw and Mohawk Industries remains strong for the new Daltonian. But now many are looking the other way.

“Every kid in this field can play college to some degree,” Azua said. “Everyone has a chance. The question is, will they take the offering? And will their parents allow them? ”

“Our Area,” a painting part of Oakwood Cafe in Dalton, is the work of Mayelli Meza, whose family emigrated from Mexico. It was revealed in early March after the artist spent four months on the stairs with a brush in his hand. Table work was Dalton’s past, present and future paintings.

Incorporated with the first mother carpet; carpet rugs; sailor, out of love for a foreign town; and rail, thanks to the way the railways helped to grow the Georgia-based textile trade, which cost billions of dollars.

Two well-known and personal items for the Table. To raise awareness of the violence against women in her hometown, she included young girls – white, black, Puerto Rico, India and Asia.

Then there is the young goalkeeper.

“It’s my son, Isaac,” Meza said, looking nervously at the wall as the last minutes of this Clásico passed.

With his throwing saves and last-minute turns, Isaac Meza remained ahead of the opposition for 78 minutes, with Dalton High School leading, 3-1. But Southeast Whitfield allowed nothing, and with 1 minute and 14 seconds left, Nathan Villanueva of the Raiders sat behind Dalton’s defense. Meza jumped forward, but the ball passed him.

His mother was furious and the granddaughter of southeastern Whitfield exploded – it was 3-2, and the shooters were alive.

With 18 seconds left, Angel Garcia of the Raiders boarded the free kick. He fired a shot at the Catamounts wall while standing in front of the goal. Ball kicked to the left. The table jumped. His fingers coated the ball, but it slowly landed on the corner of the net.

In football terms, Garcia gave 90 the best.

Mayelli Meza got up to hug her play. For the fourth time in a row, El Clásico was tied.

The next morning, Alvarran managed to stay happy. It was not the hoped-for end of the world. Instead, it was the last one for the people of Soccer Town USA

“I have to feel like we’ve been building for a whole year,” he said. “This game is something we look forward to every season, and the kids in both teams don’t fail us. Both teams are very good, but when they play they show each other very well. I hope you have seen how well the competition is played, and how it unites our community. ”

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