AYSO begins earnest fundraising for new soccer fields

Standing, from left, Johannah Bay, Caitlyn Finck, Alex Sonner and Jannalin Finck. Kneeling, from left, are, John Wilson Huffman, Molly Bay and Ashlynn Taylor.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Standing, from left, Johannah Bay, Caitlyn Finck, Alex Sonner and Jannalin Finck. Kneeling, from left, are, John Wilson Huffman, Molly Bay and Ashlynn Taylor.

David Kemp is becoming a pro at breaking camp.

“I am afraid I’ve become an expert over the last 15 years of breaking camp and setting up somewhere else,” the American Youth Soccer Organization regional commissioner said.

Following the spring season, AYSO Region 1159 vacated the fields on Joule Street in Alcoa that they have long used for younger players.

Kemp said now AYSO is embarking on a field development campaign to raise “six figures” to cover the cost of transforming fields at the Alcoa Service Center on North Wright Road and fields on Gateway Road at East Lamar Alexander Parkway.

Kemp said AYSO will have a 10-year lease with the City of Alcoa with two five-year automatic extensions. The Gateway property will be gifted to a local nonprofit to manage as soccer fields and a wetland conservation area, he said.

In the transition period, AYSO will be using intramural fields at Maryville College and the rugby fields at the American Legion on Waters Road.

“Maryville College has graciously offered to help us for this fall. They’ve done it a couple of times before in the past when we’ve had to break camp, and it has worked out well,” he said. “We’re going to be playing our Saturdays for younger children at Maryville College at the intramural field, and our U-12 and older kids will be playing at the American Legion Rugby field on Waters Road and at Heritage High School.”

Kemp said AYSO had a large sign-up this fall. “Of all the years to have one, I don’t know if this is the best one, but we have more kids than we had at this time last fall or any recent fall actually,” he said. “We’re happy about that, and we are very grateful to Maryville College and the American Legion Post for hosting.”

During their Aug. 8 meeting, the Alcoa City Commission approved a lease with AYSO for the fields beside the service center. In addition to working with the City of Alcoa to lease the permanent space at the Alcoa Service Center, Kemp said AYSO organizers have, in the last year, been working with a Catherine Gilreath from Townsend, who purchased an 11-acre tract that will be used for soccer fields.

“We have, in the last year, had an opportunity to work with a generous retired physician from Townsend who bought some property and has restricted its use for soccer,” he said. The fields are on Gateway Road, at the corner of East Lamar Alexander Parkway, and it has highway frontage. It is 2 miles from Blount Memorial Hospital, Kemp said.

“We’ve come to a point where we have a couple new places to play, but they are raw land now, and not suitable for youth soccer. So we are going to be raising a large sum of money. I’m not exactly sure how much it will cost, but it will be six figures,” he said. “With that money, we’ll be able to start and be able to phase-in our development, so we will be bringing new fields on line. Our plans, if everything goes well over next 3 to 5 years, is to bring quite a few AYSO fields on line.”

Survey and engineering work are under way and are just the first step. “From grading to a finished product will take time, effort and, of course, money before the fields can be online for play. The first phase will be a section at the Alcoa Service Center for the ‘U-Littles,’ the children 8 and under, to replace the field we lost at Joule Street. I don’t think it is too ambitious to think we will be on those fields fall of 2012. We’ll probably begin with phase II at the Alcoa Service Center and the Gateway Road complex simultaneously the year following,” he said.

Kemp said fundraising will be ongoing. “We hope to keep the regular fees flat. We want outside fundraising, because we hope not to raise fees,” he said. “We’re the lowest fees in town and some of the lowest in East Tennessee right now, and we like it that way.”

A fundraising committee has been meeting for several months and is chaired by Marcy Ward. “Some leadership is developing out of that committee outside the regular leadership of our league, which is very important. The regular leadership is busy with finding places to play in the short term and with getting the season started and with training coaches and organizing kids into balanced teams,” Kemp said.

There are a number of activities being planned over the next year. “The activity on the schedule right now will be a spaghetti dinner and auction on Nov. 5 at New Providence Presbyterian Church,” he said.

Kemp said AYSO will be working to raise money from local businesses, individuals, and they will also look into obtaining grant funds.

“We will need some significant donations, but no amount is too small. As the field project takes shape, there may be in-kind donations that also could be helpful,” he said. “To get this program up and running will need some major donors, but, at the same time, no amount is too small.”

Kemp said the most recent changes have come about after the owners of the Joule Street property decided to sell. “One of our most generous benefactors has been the owners of the Joule Street field. It is private property bought as an investment in the 1980s and held,” he said. “The family, last year, let us know they were planning to sell it, and so we began working on finding a place to go. Now the property is for sale and is on the market. It has been, you might say, a wakeup call for us. It is time to go.”

Kemp said AYSO had a long-term lease with the property owners and over the years improved the property for use as soccer fields.

“It has been a wonderful location for us. They are going to let us take the fence with us and some of the irrigation,” he said. “They’re being generous even as they’re trying to accomplish their own goal.”

Kemp said this is a transitional time for the league. “We are so excited to be moving into a permanent situation. The use of Maryville College is going to be a transitional fields, and we expect to be there this fall with our younger kids and our older kids will be fanning out as they have for several years. We have grown in numbers. It has been an exciting time, but a challenging time,” he said.

Kemp is the volunteer regional commissioner and has been associated with the program since it was established in Blount County in 1996. “We had phenomenal growth in the early years and stabilized at a number closer to 500 players per season,” he said. “We have played on vacant lots and in school yards since our inception, so I feel like it is the program more than it is the fields that have made us an important part of the community.”

Kemp said the program is designed by child development experts. “AYSO is by far the largest group doing soccer in East Tennessee. We’re a local chapter of a national organization that is run almost entirely with volunteers and according to a philosophy that encourages a positive experience for kids in a fun family environment,” he said. “The philosophy of AYSO has had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of children and their families.”

Kemp said AYSO locally has a data base of approximately 5,000 players who have played over the years. “They’ve all been coached by volunteers who have been schooled in how to be positive with kids as much as they’ve been schooled in how to play soccer,” he said.

Kemp said that as the years have gone by, AYSO organizers have found more and more parents coming in who have played AYSO with the local organization and want their kids to play because they value the positive experience the program offers.

The other two leagues that offer soccer in Blount County are Maryville Alcoa Blount County Parks and Recreation and Blount United.

“I hope we have made some of the other leagues better by our emphasis on good sportsmanship,” he said. “They’ve made us better. There has been a friendly competition between three big leagues.”

For more information about the field development campaign, call 865-980-7789.

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