By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
Providing enough soccer fields is an important goal for Kitchener, say city councillors, who unanimously passed a plan to work with the Kitchener Soccer Club to ensure there are adequate facilities now and in the future.
Ward 2 Coun. Berry Vrbanovic introduced an ‘Every Kid Plays’ motion at council Monday night, directing city staff to work with the Kitchener Soccer Club to adjust facility schedules to allow enough field time for every child that wishes to play soccer.
Since the Kitchener Soccer Club was founded in 2002, youth participation in soccer has increased 86 per cent, according to the motion.
That number is expected to continue its climb, reaching an estimated 10,000 kids by 2017.
To help deal with this increased pressure on soccer fields, staff will work with the club to develop a report, which is expected to come before council sometime in 2013, outlining facility needs and associated costs.
Council passed a similar motion for minor hockey in 2003.
“I think what it does is simply articulate our commitment, that I know members of council have certainly articulated previously to minor soccer, in a more formal way, and give that direction to staff to look at this appropriately in time for the 2014 capital budget,” said Vrbanovic.
In 2014, the city will lose four soccer fields located at Budd Park.
A clause in the lease between the property owners and the city allowed the owners to terminate the lease with two years notice.
There are two more soccer fields and a tennis court on the property, but those will remain under the city’s control until 2077, according to city staff.
As part of the Every Kid Plays initiative, city staff and the Kitchener Soccer Club will try to implement a transition strategy to cover the loss of those four fields in 2014.
Franck Hivert, president of the Kitchener Soccer Club, said the motion is recognition of the hard work the club has done in the past years.
“I cannot be any happier than I am . . . This just confirms and is public acknowledgment that the club is doing well and there’s a bright future ahead of us,” he said.
“It puts us at a similar level that hockey has.”
While Hivert couldn’t say for sure how many additional fields the city needs to fully meet demand, he said replacing the Budd Park fields with new artificial turf fields elsewhere will help to cover the need.
Artificial turf, which can also be found at Woodside Park, allows players to use the fields earlier and later in the season, as well as solving issues with mud and rain, he said.
While the city has been supportive of soccer in Kitchener, the sport has been “overlooked and under-serviced,” according to Hivert.
“There are some teams that are playing on fields that, in my mind, are sub par, and when they are subpar that can lead to injuries because you have holes where you shouldn’t have.”
Rep teams have, in the past, been training in school gyms that are not designed for soccer and can also lead to impact injuries, he said.
Councillors unanimously supported the motion, which aims to eventually relieve some of these scheduling pressures facing the soccer club.
“Speaking as someone who grew up living and breathing the most beautiful game of soccer, I fully support this motion. For very good reasons, soccer in recent years has been outstripping hockey as the game of choice for thousands of our kids, both female and male. In part those stats reflect the increasingly multi-cultural makeup of our society,” said Ward 9 Coun. Frank Etherington.
“I watch with delight, most summer evenings, pick-up games of soccer in Victoria Park where often they cannot even speak to each other. They don’t share the language; the only language they share is soccer.”
While hockey is still popular in Kitchener, the cost of the extensive equipment required to play can be prohibitive for some families.
“I’m very happy to see this before us. I grew up through the Kitchener Minor Hockey system, and while it’s not soccer, the benefits are the same. To see what the Kitchener Soccer Club has done over the years is very impressive,” said Ward 1 Coun. Scott Davey.
“If we’re going to look at improving kids’ fitness, there really isn’t a better sport than soccer, simply because the barrier to entry in terms of equipment costs is so much lower than in other sports.”
While the motion didn’t set out any financial commitment on behalf of the city, the goals involved could cost money, said Ward 5 Coun. Kelly Galloway-Sealock.
“While this is a great concept and I think we need to continue to look at it, it could come with significant dollars from the tax base in order to make something like this happen,” she said.
“It comes with a cost. Not today, but definitely as we move forward.”
Ward 7 Coun. Bil Ioannidis also noted the potential long-term costs, but recognized that there are both social benefits and larger savings to be found.
“The motion will be investing in our youth for their health and the development of character,” he said.
“In fact, it’s known that for every dollar invested in young people in proactive activities like sports and leadership programs, the public will save $7 in terms of our health care and criminal justice system.”