The World Came to St. Charles County, and it Came to Play Soccer (and Cricket)

By Greg Prestemon, CEO

Roughly 90% of the time, sports, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty trivial. I know that seems almost sacrilegious coming from someone in the heart of St. Louis Cardinals Nation, where it can seem like the entire calendar revolves around baseball season. But as much as I love the Cardinals—and as much as I loved sports in general growing up in Iowa, especially basketball—sports are usually just a game.

Except when they aren’t.

Baseball was more than just a game when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch (and threw a strike, no less—while wearing a Kevlar vest underneath his FDNY jacket) at the World Series in Yankee Stadium after 9/11. Regardless of what you think of President Bush, that pitch was more than just ceremonial.

It was incredibly moving and exactly what was needed in that moment.

It isn’t just baseball that shows how a game can transcend the field it’s played on. Earlier this year I wrote about the American Cricket Academy, an organization based right here in St. Charles County. Founder Ajay Jhamb is creating incredible opportunities for young people in this region to play cricket and impact their community through service projects.

Ajay’s club has boomed.

Since it began, it has grown from six participants to nearly 200, many of whom are Indian-American.

The American Cricket Academy isn’t the only example of the world using sports to knock on the door of St. Charles County. This week, from June 19-23, Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona will host a sold-out soccer camp right here at the St. Charles Soccer Complex. While the name “FC Barcelona” might not be well known to those of us who are unfamiliar with the world of professional soccer, the team is a big deal.

A really big deal.

In fact, FC Barcelona is the world’s second-most-valuable sports team.

(Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals are not the first, though everyone knows we do have the world’s best fans.)

FC Barcelona’s decision to host one of their U.S. soccer camps in St. Charles County, along with the presence of a thriving cricket club, shows that the changing world isn’t just something we hear about in the media: Demographic change is a real, actual thing. It’s happening. When I started this job, it would have been impossible to imagine 200 young cricket players gathering on a new pitch in Dardenne Prairie, or a Barcelona-based soccer team hosting a camp just off Highway 370.

That’s what happening, though—and it’s a great thing.

Figuring out how different groups of people coexist within the same community has never been easy, but it becomes easier when people with different backgrounds share the same field. That shared experience creates bonds that make it harder for divisive messages and rhetoric to take root.

But what’s happening in Dardenne Prairie and at the FC Barcelona Soccer Camp this week doesn’t just make St. Charles County a stronger community.

It also strengthens our local economy.

The type of employees and entrepreneurs our county has invested time and money in attracting values diversity. They value being exposed to new people and new experiences. While soccer long ago became a mainstream sport among youth, a Spanish club selecting St. Charles County as the site of its soccer club sends a powerful message that we are a county that is open to the wider world. That message of openness and welcoming was also sent when Dardenne Prairie Mayor David Zucker and other city leaders supported the American Cricket Academy’s effort to build a new pitch.

Sometimes sports are more than just a game.

Right now, in St. Charles County, there is a cricket academy and a soccer camp, whose mere presence shows how much the world is changing. The way local governments here have embraced the academy and the soccer club also shows how much things have changed.

That embrace of change, difference, and diversity is good for our communities.

And it’s good for our economy.