Jackson soccer fans await 18-field fix for overcrowding

Sunday, March 16, 2003

About 900 youths, or 7.5 percent of the total city population, are involved in Jackson's soccer programs.

All of the 70-plus teams share just five Jackson fields.

Simple division of those figures equals a mess when coaches, league organizers and parents try to manage practice and game schedules, especially during the spring season, when school is in session and dusk hits at about 6 p.m. Some teams use pastures and orange cones to create makeshift fields.

"It's been a fact of life -- we've had limited facilities for a lot of kids," said Jackson parks director Shane West Anderson. "But that will change soon, possibly this fall."

The Jackson Soccer Park Association, a private organization using money collected from fund raisers, businesses and service clubs, is ready to finish the basic construction of an 18-field soccer park it started late last fall off Route PP next to the Jackson Industrial Park.

As soon as the weather warms up and the area dries out, workers will finish grading the fields. The grass will be planted this spring, said Jack Litzelfelner Jr., president of the Jackson Soccer Park Association, and a best-case scenario would involve games being played at the new soccer park this fall.

That's great news for Todd McDowell, who coaches Jackson's traveling team of players ages 9 and under.

"We're trying to work with rec teams, and whenever they get off a field, maybe we can squeeze in somewhere," he said. "Sometimes we practice in an open field down by the middle school, but it's just real rough and just not the ideal situation. It's a good way to turn an ankle or get an injury."

Waiting on money

To date, Litzelfelner said, the association has received $45,000 with another $35,000 pledged but not received. The association has enough money to complete the basic construction of the fields, he said, but not enough to add an irrigation and drainage system, concession stands and playgrounds.

"We just want to make it a premier park," he said.

Litzelfelner hopes Jackson will get some help from a federal grant as well as a national soccer organization grant.

The federal grant is designed to help fund projects for use in floodplain areas. It could be up to $150,000, but Litzelfelner said Jackson likely won't get near that much money.

"We may see money in the tens of thousands," he said.

The other grant, applied for by the Jackson Area Optimist Soccer Association, targets the U.S. Soccer Association, which is looking to help build soccer parks. The amount is however much the USSA wants to give.

The result of both grant applications should be available within the next few weeks, Litzelfelner said.

The city has had some involvement in the project, though it is not funding the construction of the park. The city has already put water lines out to the park and will, once the weather cooperates, put in electrical and sewer lines as well. It will also finish an entrance road that was graded last fall.

Litzelfelner said the park could be ready by the fall, depending on how well the grass grows. He said it could be next spring before it will be game-ready.

The park will free up some fields along West Jackson Boulevard, which will be used for youth football.

'Man, this is enormous'

The final plans for the soccer project include 18 fields, including a main field in the center of the park.

"It's a huge park," Litzelfelner said. "When we started going on the construction last fall, it was just a pasture. But once the fields got laid out, I thought, 'Man, this is enormous.'"

The land was donated by the Jackson Industrial Development Company, the private group that owns the industrial park. Because the land lies in a floodplain, it cannot be used for industrial buildings.

Once the park is built, it will be maintained by the city.

Litzelfelner said the park association has not yet figured out how it will water the fields.

He said the association may have to dig a well or build a small pond to irrigate the fields. That's one of the things he hopes to address should the association receive grant money.

If the association doesn't receive the grant money, Litzelfelner has no reason to think the community won't chip in with more donations.

The Optimist's soccer association raised more than $12,000 for the soccer park, with service clubs and businesses providing the rest of the $45,000 received so far.

"What's really become crystallized for me over the last year is how, when a community gets behind something, it can happen without the city getting involved in it," he said. "This project is a real good testament to the need and to the commitment of the individuals in the community of Jackson."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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