Integrity, teamwork, a strong work ethic, sharing – these values are learned through the youth soccer experience. These words also describe how the soccer community conducted itself throughout the process that decided unanimously that the best use for the Rillito property was a soccer complex.
First, we presented an honest need. Tucson is woefully short of fields for youth sports. We have reached a point where we are in danger of losing programs that have served Tucson for decades.
For example, the Olympic Development Program, which gives our players the chance to play at the state, regional and national levels, has asked for a six-field complex for next year. We don’t have one. State Cup, the year-end tournament which has been played in both Tucson and Phoenix for decades, may be played in only Phoenix next year because our fields are so overused. Tucson’s Parks & Recreation Department does the best possible job maintaining our facilities, but the amount of wear and tear makes their job almost impossible.
When the Rillito Regional Park Advisory Committee began its meetings, soccer and horse racing were represented equally. Those representing our community knew that this committee would be successful only through teamwork. One of the agreements they made was to give up all of Mehl Park – one of our most active soccer locations – to baseball. They understood everyone’s needs had to be addressed to forge a plan that would serve the entire community.
Horse racing was not a loser; the plan calls for them to get a new facility. Horse racing can and will continue. When our representatives signed this proposal – and it was signed by every member of the committee, including Ed Moore – their signatures were our bond. We were and are ready to live up to every agreement made.
Now, let’s talk about a work ethic. Our organization is made up of hundreds of volunteers: moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and people who love soccer. We’re on the fields teaching. We also work to hold tournaments that benefit our youth and our community. I am not exaggerating when I say thousands of volunteers have worked at our tournaments over the years. They are our lifeblood and our main fundraisers.
Where does the money go? One very important place is back into our community. Pima County Junior Soccer League and its member clubs have contributed nearly $500,000 to maintain and light soccer fields throughout our area. At our last meeting, we voted to donate another $20,000 to help light two more fields. We will continue to work and contribute.
When Rillito Soccer Complex is built, we’ll go into high gear. We will have the fields needed to be able grow our membership and our tournaments. Currently, the Fort Lowell Shootout brings teams from Mexico, Europe and across the country to Tucson. The Shootout is estimated to generate nearly $5 million for our economy each year. Imagine what this tournament and our other local tournaments will be able to do with a real soccer complex.
Additionally, we are ready to roll up our sleeves and bring in regional and national events which can have a huge economic impact. Rillito is the perfect site, with restaurants, hotels, shopping and recreation close by. Families may come to play soccer, but they’ll stay because we live in a wonderful place.
Lastly, I want to talk about sharing. As I said, we have made substantial contributions to Tucson fields. Some of the fields we have helped develop aren’t always available to us. They’re used by football, by lacrosse, by Ultimate Frisbee. And, when all the teams have gone home, they’re used by families as part of our parks system. We know how to share.
We also know the most important thing we do is to better the lives of Tucson children. I have spoken of integrity, teamwork, effort and sharing. We are teaching these values while we teach soccer. I know we make a difference. The Rillito Soccer Complex will make a difference, too. It will enable us to do more for youth and more for our community.
Pat Dunham is president of the Pima County Junior Soccer League.
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