Let's play soccer (web only)

Having seen it grow by leaps bounds, Mike Patten thinks it’s time for a more permanent home for the youth soccer program he and his wife took over seven years ago.

Patten asked the Litchfield School Board Jan. 10 to consider investing in a bona fide practice field for the youth soccer program, suggesting a possible site on school-owned land near the old airport hangar north of Litchfield Civic Arena.

“The program has been growing every year,” Patten said. “(We) just want something where we can get started.”

Patten and his wife, Lori, took over the Community Education youth soccer program when their oldest child was five years old, he said.

It wasn’t exactly a program that was flourishing, with fewer than 40 participants that first year. But their commitment to and promotion of the program has helped it grow, with 166 registered participants during the summer of 2021.

As participation has grown, so has the need for space, Patten explained. In their first year of running it, the Pattens operated one Saturday morning practice session on three fields. The program now requires two time slots on Saturdays and six fields, introducing children from preschool to sixth grade to the game.

They have been using the plot of low-lying land just to the south of the Civic Arena and north of the American Legion softball fields.

While not an ideal location — the land is basically a drainage area, and heavy rain events can create a soggy playing field — “it’s the only area we can find,” Patten said.

A request to use Litchfield High School’s practice football field north of the Civic Arena was denied, he added, and while “totally OK” with that decision, it leaves the program in a pinch “where there’s not space for those kids to play.”

Patten, who credited his wife’s organizational skills for the program’s growth, said that in addition to their time volunteering to organize and coach the program, the family has supported it financially – to the tune of something that “probably will eclipse $10,000 since we started.”

A dedicated practice field would make a big difference in continuing to grow the program, he said. And he didn’t think the request would be that big an investment for the school district. The space behind the old hangar, he said, could be made ready for practices simply by mowing it. A shed in which to permanently store equipment — currently it’s stored at the Wagner Education Building, he said — would be helpful, but not an immediate necessity.

“The only thing I’m looking for is the space to play,” Patten said. “We’ve played in drainage fields for seven years. We’ll make do with what we can.”

He admitted not knowing everything that might be required to create a good practice area, but having adequate space that could accommodate future growth was key.

“An area big enough that could hold two soccer fields” was the immediate concern, Patten said, but he thought it also important to keep in mind “not only what do we have now, but what could we have in five years.”

Board member Greg Mathews said he supported the Pattens’ efforts, but he thought preparing the airport plot probably would take more effort to make it playable. He expected “some leveling is going to have to take place” to ensure the ground is not a safety hazard.

The other four board members present at the meeting all seemed supportive, but the consensus was that the idea would need further study before a final action. The topic is likely to come back to the board at some point in the next couple of months, after snow is gone, and Business Manager Jesse Johnson and the district’s custodial director have had an opportunity to see what shape the land is in.