Budd Park will soon be home to a soccer mini-pitch as contractors began installing the equipment on the former tennis court.
The project, supported locally by Mattie Rhodes Center’s (MRC) Soccer For Success program, is funded through the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s (USSF) partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“They actually recently just reached out to us because they know we run the Soccer for Success program here in Kansas City,” said Diego Barrios, Youth Development Coordinator for MRC. “I had been wanting to do it at Budd Park for a long time because I know that it is a park that is big and it’s a cornerstone of the Northeast. I knew nobody was using it for tennis.”
Barrios has been discussing the location and funding with the USSF for about two years, and on June 2 they finally began installation. They had funding lined up two years ago and presented their plans to the Kansas City Parks Board, who approved it. Although that funding ultimately fell through, with the plans already approved, this time around it was simple.
“About two months ago the U.S. Soccer Foundation reached out to me with this opportunity with Dick’s Sporting Goods, and they were finally able to put the money down,” Barrios said. “That was the hardest part, just finding the money.”
Mini-pitches are artificial turf or hard surfaces surrounded by a rebound board system with integrated goals. The ball remains constantly in play. Mini-pitches open up greater access to soccer, more ball contact, more decisions, more goals, creating a faster, more intensive experience than on a regular pitch.
According to the USSF, mini-pitches are ideal for urban areas and other communities where finding a safe place to play can be difficult. These small, customized, hard-court surfaces are perfectly suited for organized soccer programs and pick-up games.
“The U.S. Soccer Foundation has spearheaded so many important initiatives across the country aimed at empowering young people with essential life skills, relationships, and fitness habits, things that will have a positive impact throughout their lives,” said Jeff Rogers, President of Musco. “We believe strongly in the Foundation’s mission and couldn’t be more proud to be their partner in this significant work.”
The metal mini-pitch structure was installed on the existing tennis court surface in just two days by Musco Lighting, a sporting event and concert lighting company. Next week, the crew is headed to Columbus, Ohio to install another one, but while they were in town they scouted a few more potential locations. Over the next two weeks, the resurfacing of the court will take place.
“That’s the most important part because that’s when they level the whole court and then repaint it and make it look pretty,” Barrios said.
Soccer for Success through MRC takes place at multiple sites throughout Northeast like James Elementary School, Holy Cross School, Northeast Middle School and Budd Park for players from age five through high school.
“It’s basically a free afterschool program for kids in underserved communities,” Barrios said. “We provide the mentors, the materials, and then the kids at the end of the 12-week program receive a soccer ball, a jersey and shin guards.”
The goal is to have the new min-pitch court ready to use by July so Soccer for Success can start programming there, or even somewhat organized free play.
“We really just want to open it up to the community, in the end this is for them and I just want the courts to be used,” Barrios said.
Years ago before the program began at Budd Park, Barrios remembers the police had labeled the park a “red zone”.
“They called it a red zone because there was a lot of crime and drugs going on at the park,” Barrios said.
With the introduction of the soccer program and a baseball program, the police were able to change its status to “active” with the influx of positive use.
“That’s really what we want to do,” Barrios said. “Also at Mattie Rhodes we are starting with an initiative called ‘Reachable Community’ and that’s going to be an event every second Saturday of the month starting in June.”
Further into the summer Reachable Community events will be accompanied by weekly fitness classes in the park hosted by Healing House’s First Step Fitness Gym. Mattie Rhodes plans to host two or three soccer sessions a week for players on the new mini-pitch when it is complete.
“What we want to try to do is have that park as a green, safe space for the community to be at and to do physical activity and stay healthy,” Barrios said.
He envisions incorporating art around the mini-pitch to make it more inviting, and hopes to work with local artists in the near future.
Youth interested in Soccer for Success can visit mattierhodes.org under the youth development page.