NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) — The deadly shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was personal for pro soccer star Marcus Tracy. He grew up in Newtown, and his mother once taught at the school.

The San Jose Earthquakes striker joined about 40 other current and former soccer players, including Landon Donovan, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Christie Rampone and Alexi Lalas, on Monday afternoon at the Newtown Youth Academy, playing soccer and signing autographs for children.

About 1,000 children attended the event, which was arranged by Houston Dynamo general manager and Connecticut native Chris Canetti.

Newtown, a community of about 27,000 people 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of New York City, has always been a soccer town, Tracy said.

"It was important to get the young kids out here and show them a good time again and sort of restore that sense of normalcy and see them smile and run around and laugh," he said.

Several sports stars, including New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, have travelled to Newtown in the weeks since a gunman killed his mother at home before going to Sandy Hook and killing 20 first-graders, six school administrators and then himself.

Resident Kara Gerace took her three elementary school-age children to the soccer event.

"It's been a diversion," Gerace said. "It gives the kids an opportunity to get their minds off of what they've been through. It just lets them have fun and be with their friends and have a blast."

Her 9-year-old daughter, Julia, said she knows people feel sorry for her and her friends and she appreciates how nice everybody has been.

"It just means a lot to me," she said. "And I really liked holding (Christie Rampone's) gold medal. That was cool."

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