Soccer pioneer motivates young players - KCTV5

Soccer pioneer motivates young players

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OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) -

Nearly 100 youth soccer teams from across the country have gathered in Overland Park for the national championships.

And the 2,000 players were delighted Monday by a surprise appearance by Mia Hamm, the most famous women's soccer player in the United States.

"I've been in their shoes," Hamm said. "You're excited. You've worked so hard for this. Now, it's an opportunity to go out there and express yourself."

Hamm is a two-time World Cup winner and played in three summer Olympics. Her appearance comes on the heels of a Women's National Soccer League team starting in Kansas City. The stadium in which the women play pales in comparison to Sporting KC Park, where the men compete, but Hamm hopes things will change.

"You're right, Sporting KC is a world-class facility, and I would love to see the women's players be able to play in a complex like that," said Hamm.

She said youth today may one day see gender equity in soccer.

"The goal is to end gender inequality within the sport, but it's still a fight their generation is seeing," Hamm said.

She said some future Olympic champions likely competed in Overland Park this week. She said they must be showcased properly.

"We need each other. When I was playing, some of our biggest supporters were on the men's side," Hamm said. "We're all cheering for this sport to continue to grow and succeed in this country."

Some young girls concur.

Meredith Slessman, a 15-year-old player from Nashville, just wants the playing field to be level.

"I wish we did the same stuff as the boys get," she said.

But she said she appreciates how the sport is growing in popularity.

"It's exciting because people actually care now," Meredith said.

Mike Walsh, a 17-year-old player from New Jersey, said he'd love to see an end to gender inequality.

"It's only the U.S. where the girls are big. It's not all over the world. So, it would be nice to fill up the stands like fans do for the men, but I don't think it will happen," Walsh said.

Boys and girls are certainly equal at the National Youth tournament, which is playing out at the Overland Park Soccer Complex. They're all playing on the same fields, and they're all playing for the same national championship.

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