To Kirk Otey, it seems the fastest-growing segment of Mecklenburg's population is youth soccer players.
As a Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation commissioner, Otey heads the commission's soccer advisory committee.
For years, he's heard the outcry: Give us more soccer fields.
“We've made some strides,” Otey said. “But given the rate of growth in Mecklenburg County, it's very difficult to keep up with the demand.”
The latest effort to keep up – three soccer fields built near Mallard Creek High School – opened two Saturdays ago. Dignitaries took shots at a goal to launch the fall youth soccer season at the complex.
Park and Recreation teamed up with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to build those three fields. They spent $3million in 2004 bond money on the fields, restrooms, a concession building, parking, and road and site improvements.
The fields add to five already at the complex. Two more fields on the Mallard Creek campus are open to the public when the school isn't using them, said park operations manager Greg Jackson.
Through other public-private partnerships, the park department has built more multi-use fields around the county. Other fields are planned or under construction, using bond money from successful 1999 and 2004 referendums.
They include three fields at the Robert L. Smith Park in northwest Mecklenburg; six fields built with Huntersville at the Richard Berry Memorial Park; and five fields planned for the Matthews Regional Sportsplex at Independence Boulevard and Interstate 485, using 2004 bond money. Six more at the sportsplex are included in November's park and recreation referendum.
Jackson stressed that all the fields are not just used for soccer. The popularity of youth lacrosse and rugby has grown dramatically in Mecklenburg in the past five years.
“There's been an explosion in the demand for those fields,” Jackson said. “So several sports share these fields in an effort to keep pace.”