OCEANSIDE — Kids who play soccer on the open grass area at Joe Balderrama Park may soon see two recreational soccer fields thanks to a city grant application.
The City Council approved an application for a state Youth Soccer and Recreation Development Program grant to fund the fields on Dec. 7.
If the grant is approved, it will add two fields that will support informal soccer clinics and practices led by parent volunteers for more than 60 kids, ages 6 to 17.
The neighborhood soccer club began when a dad and his sons took to routinely playing soccer at the park.
Soon other kids asked to join.
“An Eastside family had started to hold soccer practices for their two sons as a way to keep them involved in sports and out of gangs and drugs,” Maria Yanez, city housing and neighborhood services management analyst, said. “Other residents started to ask if he could coach their children as well.”
As the group of players grew other parents helped with the coaching. Soon community groups, including the Eastside Neighborhood Association, donated soccer balls and cleats to encourage kids in the newfound healthy activity.
For the most part weekly practices continue to be informal scrimmages and games.
Some of the players have become solid teams. Their winning soccer games have brought the community together to celebrate local pride.
“They participated in a Latino soccer league tournament in which they were able to place for their age group, and dedicated the trophy to the neighborhood group in appreciation for their support,” Yanez said.
Soccer is a positive focus in the Eastside neighborhood, which has been an area where identified gang members have resided since the 1990s.
Yanez said investment in the fields would affirm parents who are taking action to initiate a positive change.
“These soccer fields would help validate the dad and parents that are taking proactive measures to combat gang involvement and drug use with their kids,” Yanez said.
Better fields would also provide more recreational and competitive opportunities for neighborhood kids.
“Many of these youth would not leave the neighborhood to attend soccer clubs and leagues outside of Eastside, nor would they have the finances to pay the soccer club fees,” Yanez said.
The city’s grant application requests $355,000.
Installation of the fields is priced at $400,000, and includes ground leveling, irrigation, field lights, goal posts, and a ten foot buffer area for spectators.
The matching $45,000 will be included in the city budget as part of its public works, parks maintenance costs.
If grant funds come through, construction of the new public fields could begin next summer.
Joe Balderrama Park also has a recreation center, community resource center, playground area, tennis courts, and basketball courts.