Mayor Rahm Emanuel played freshman soccer at New Trier High School, then gave it up when he found he was “better at ballet than sitting on the bench in soccer.”
Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, was a men’s league soccer player for years before his knee surgeon ordered him to hang up his cleats after six surgeries.
On Wednesday, the two men joined forces once again in a way that will give thousands of Chicago kids a place to play soccer, a sport they both love.
One year after making the $12 million donation needed to complete the lakefront trail separation project, the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund is making a $3 million donation that will pave the way for construction of 50 miniature soccer fields across the city over the next five years.
The announcement was made Wednesday at Gage Park as part of a nationwide campaign by the U.S. Soccer Foundation known as, “It’s Everyone’s Game.”
The campaign is aimed at building 1,000 soccer fields across the country by 2026 to give one million kids a place to play, improve their physical fitness and develop the teamwork skills needed to become successful adults.
For Griffin, the event was a chance to talk about what soccer meant to him as a kid and what he hopes it will mean to the kids who play on the mini-fields he is helping to build in partnership with the Hauptman family, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
“On the soccer field is where I learned….the value of hard work, practice, teamwork, competition and fair play. These are life lessons that one carries through their entire life. It’s impacted my business. It impacts how I run Citadel,” Griffin said.
Emanuel applauded Griffin, one of his biggest campaign contributors, for being “incredibly generous with his resources and his passion for the city.”
Emanuel then jokingly reminisced about the year he spent as a New Trier bench warmer and his decision to give it up when he learned that he was a whole lot better at ballet.
“I ended up taking ballet, because I thought it would improve my footwork. And I realized I was better at ballet than sitting on the bench in soccer,” Emanuel said.