Richmond soccer programs rally for more, better fields

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Richmond soccer programs form coalition to advocate for more access to better fields
Richmond soccer clubs gather to rally for better access to better fields and facilities prior to the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 11. (All photos by Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

Members of local youth soccer programs held a large rally at Richmond City Hall Tuesday to call upon the City Council to create additional fields for soccer and to step up maintenance of current fields.

After the rally, 43 people spoke during public comment at the City Council meeting to advocate for more and better youth soccer fields. They were ultimately heard, with the City Council voting 7-0 to, in part, direct city staff to come up with a plan and cost estimates to expand access to soccer facilities, and to pursue an agreement with the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to expand access for local programs to district fields.

The city currently has two purpose-built soccer fields – at Country Club Vista Park and at Martin Luther King Jr. Park – but increasing popularity of the sport locally has meant that soccer is being played and practiced on outfields of ballfields and informal turf areas. Not only is there not enough soccer fields, but existing fields “are not used to their full potential due to insufficient maintenance,” advocates from youth programs state.

A relatively new collaboration of three local youth soccer programs, called the Richmond Soccer Coordination Center, studied the current problem and made a number of recommendations to the city. They encouraged the city to establish partnerships with leagues, teams and neighborhood groups for volunteer involvement in field maintenance, to enforce resting time for fields to prevent overuse turf damage, and to expand the usability of existing fields with minor or major renovations, such as drainage improvements and reconfigurations.

The collaboration of soccer programs additionally proposed re-grading fields, adding lighting to extend hours of use and re-surfacing fields with turf to decrease required down time.

Soccer advocates also say the cost to leagues to play on Richmond fields is higher than cities like San Pablo or Berkeley. And they want to take advantage of a joint power agreement that enables soccer programs to use fields in nearby cities, and to expand use of West Contra Costa Unified School District fields.

“The Council must prioritize the opening of spaces for sporting fields, especially soccer fields,” Diego Garcia, head of Richmond SOL soccer league, stated at the rally prior to the City Council meeting. “With our youth here in Richmond, it’s either sports or the streets. These fields are way overdue to the community to use.”

Samantha Torres, executive director of the Richmond Soccer Coordinating Center and commissioner on the Park and Recreation Commission, said Tuesday’s presentation to City Council was “a culmination of some hard-earned lessons in efforts to maintain and develop youth soccer programs in Richmond.”

“Up until 2020, many of our Richmond soccer organizations relied on the sports fields at Richmond High School and Kennedy High School for games and practices,” Torres said. “After the sports fields and programs began to reopen in 2021, policies changed so that WCCUSD fields became difficult to access. This forced charter schools, private schools and club soccer programs to look elsewhere for soccer field access for evening practices and weekend games.”

Currently, MLK Jr. Park “has the only affordable lighted turf field with restrooms in the City of Richmond, and has become the only viable sport field space for Richmond sports organizations,” Torres said.

Rather than fighting for available resources, local participants in youth sports programs opted to collaborate to advocate for more, better facilities.

 “The Richmond youth sports community is not motivated by profit but rather, in service to our youth,” she said. “It was in that spirit that the three Richmond youth soccer clubs came together to form the Richmond Soccer Coordination Center. We could easily could have raised the costs to players, rented pricier fields and priced out our lower income families, but instead, we are working together to fight the Pay-To-Play model of youth sports, and want to increase opportunities for all Richmond kids to have healthy, safe and accessible activities. We hope City Council will hear our concerns and make concrete and timely efforts toward increasing soccer field access in service to our Richmond kids.”

Richmond soccer programs form coalition to advocate for more access to better fields