Youth Athletic Opportunities in Southside: How Xavier Cotto is Impacting the Socioeconomic Divide in Chattanooga 

by Hayden Wynne

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a large socioeconomic divide. For the most part, the different parts of town are separated distinctly by tax brackets. Certain parts of Chattanooga have a very low average household income, and as a result, are forgotten about by local government and businesses. In parts of town like the southside, there aren’t even buses running. The buses actually stopped running because people were damaging them. Without buses running, many of the inhabitants don't have any form of transportation. When these parts of Chattanooga are “forgotten,” the people living there begin to miss out on important things. Because of the lack of resources, like grocery stores and gas stations, these parts of town become their own “island.” This is seen frequently on the Southside of Chattanooga, says Xavier O. Cotto of Southside Youth Development. Most children growing up on the Southside can’t access sports. This isn’t necessarily because their schools don’t offer the opportunity, or because they don’t have other access to teams. It is mostly because they don’t have a way to get to and from practice and games. Class division in Chattanooga is an issue, much like it is in the rest of America. 

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As the president of the board of directors for Southside Youth Development, Xavier Cotto is increasing access to baseball, field development, and other athletic opportunities.

Xavier spent his childhood and his school career in Puerto Rico. As a child, he led a normal life and played baseball. After a decline in availability of Puerto Rican engineering jobs, he moved to Chattanooga to work for TVA. Through this job and his time in the city, Xavier was challenged to reach out to the community and find people who were in need of help. Xavier works to help better our community as president of the board for Southside Youth Development, founded in 2018. The organization helps to provide opportunities for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play baseball, or any other sport. The mission of Southside Youth Development, according to Xavier, is to impact and empower the kids of the Southside communities through athletics.

Class division has the potential to take away opportunities from people and create a general feeling of separation. In places like Chattanooga, the area you live in is determined almost exclusively by how much a person is able to afford. Neighborhoods don’t tend to have much socioeconomic diversity. Because of this, people in low income neighborhoods have a wall between them and people in higher income neighborhoods, Xavier says. Many of these people miss out on things such as sports leagues for children, gas stations, and grocery stores, because they just aren’t presented to them. A lot of people see this issue but most choose to stay quiet because it’s easier than taking a going against the norm. Most people are comfortable being separated by their social classes, and don’t feel the need to get close to people outside of them. The reason for this is that the people from the upper classes are blessed with an abundance of resources or raised in the social class they remain in, so they don’t understand the perspective of another class. This leaves many people stuck in one place socially, and expected by most everyone to become exactly what they are viewed as, according to Class Differences by Tori DeAngelis. It can be discouraging and very hard for most people to overcome this stereotype. Some people choose to stand up and talk about this issue. 

There are a few ways that Southside Youth Development provides the opportunity for Southside youth to play sports, including lining up rides for practice and games and giving them the support they need. They even worked to help fix up the fields in the Southside communities so that kids would have more opportunities to play. They hope to be able to provide more opportunities for these kids in the future, like taking the kids on group outings to places they may not have had the opportunity to experience before. Xavier’s specific role in Southside Youth Development is to be what he calls a sort of “middle ground.” He says that, through his role, he is supporting the coach, but he also keeps track of administrative things, like making a budget and managing websites and social media. Southside Youth Development has partnerships with several churches in the area, including Silverdale Baptist, Calvary Chapel, and a couple others. These churches not only help with funding, but they send out volunteers and pastors to help Southside Youth Development do their work. He says that, since he has started, he’s been able to see the Howard High School baseball team improve, and has even seen some of the players graduate high school and enroll in college.

“[We should] keep our eyes open to all sectors of the community,” Xavier says in closing. That’s advice we can all take. He says to look for opportunities to help others through doing things that you love. It is undeniable that class division is an issue in Chattanooga. Thankfully, with the help of people like Xavier, this issue is getting closer to being resolved.