Last fall, AYSO 605 and the soccer fields at Mallard Creek Park were at a crossroads.
Leaders of the local youth soccer organization saw a dire need to improve the playing surfaces of the park's eight fields. But Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation had limited resources for field revitalization, especially because of recent steep budget cuts.
So AYSO 605 leaders moved ahead and took on the project themselves. After a year of rallying volunteers and tapping into its own bank accounts, ASYO (American Youth Soccer Organization, region 605) is now playing its first full season on fields that live up to their expectations.
With more grass seed to sow and more ruts to fill, the work is not yet finished. But volunteers with the organization say that with the proper funding of maintenance, the fields will continue to improve and maintain high standards.
AYSO 605 is a recreational soccer program for youth ages 4 1/2 to 19. Teams play in AYSO's own league structure.
This fall, the organization has 700 youth registered. Between the program's fall and spring leagues, league president Kathy Riley said, about 1,600 youth will play.
Additionally, traveling all-star teams represent Region 605 at ASYO tournaments on the sectional and national levels. In June, AYSO 605 hosted the Southeast Sectional 5 tournament, which included recreational and all-star divisions.
Organization leaders were especially interested in prepping the fields for such a prestigious tournament. Eighty teams from the Southeast participated, including 16 from Region 605.
As of last fall, the group was responsible for maintaining only two of Mallard Creek Park's eight fields. Mecklenburg Park and Recreation took care of the rest.
AYSO already had first-use rights on all the fields. But Riley solicited approval from Park and Recreation so that AYSO 605 could recondition the fields.
Charged with leading the AYSO revitalization project was field coordinator Kevin Smith, a volunteer like all AYSO adult leaders.
He has two adult children who came through the program and another who still plays.
"In the fall, everyone was talking about the fields," said Smith, "... that something needed to be done. When the word got out that we needed volunteers, it just kind of snowballed."
Smith solicited bids from private contractors to recondition the six fields the organization was newly responsible for. The bids ranged between $30,000 and $50,000, an amount the soccer program could not support.
As an alternative, Smith talked with a local hardware dealer (Faulk Brothers) about purchasing supplies such as grass seed, fertilizer and soil conditioner and leasing equipment such as spreaders and aerators.
Park and Recreation also repaired some field irrigation problems, and AYSO hired a landscaper from Knoxville, Tenn., who happened to be an AYSO parent, to help with the heavy field repair work.
Smith recruited AYSO volunteers to bring their muscle and yard tools to three workdays over the course of the past 12 months. At the final work day in August, 35 people helped.
"The people did a good job of laying the soil," said Anurag Garhyan, a first-year AYSO coach.
"When we had all that rain (recently), the fields drained really well."
The total cost of the project ended up at $18,000. AYSO has taken on added costs of $5,500-$6,500 per month for lawn-care supplies and grass cutting.
Riley said the program may have to increase its participation fees, but only as a last resort. ASYO leaders are examining ways to attract sponsorship money and grants to offset the program's new costs.