BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN
Ducks land on the water covering the playing fields at the Optimist soccer park on Wednesday.
(Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun)
You would have a better chance of playing water polo than kicking a soccer ball at Optimist Park right now.
As the gold standard for soccer pitches in Brandon, the park has essentially been a writeoff for three of the last five years due to high waters from the Assiniboine River and the damage the water left behind.
"It’s beyond a challenge because it’s flooding every second year now," Brandon Youth Soccer executive director Gerry Rocan said.
Pick your poison for why the park is flooding, be it too much agricultural land being put into production, climate change, poor water management or all of the above, the park cannot continue to function the way it is.
"All I know is there is too much water coming down the river to allow us to continue to use that site," Rocan said.
When the water does drop below the height of the dike, Rocan said they will pump it out and try to revive some of the fields, but there’s a bigger push to find a long-term solution for the deluge dilemma.
The lack of available pitches has meant other fields, mainly in schoolyards, have taken a beating.
There is barely enough space to accommodate the approximate 1,100 youth soccer players in Brandon, and some fields are being played on continuously.
"We’re just pounding the life out of those fields and I don’t know how much more they can take," Rocan said. "Eventually they become non-usable and a perfect example of that is lower Green Acres. It’s beat up to the point where you can’t really play on it anymore."
The association has seen a decline in numbers from a high of 1,200 plus two years ago, and Rocan said the biggest reason is the lack of available pitches.
Further complicating matters is a family with two children playing in different age groups often finds the kids are playing at different fields in the city, something that was mitigated by Optimist Park.
Given a blank cheque, Rocan said he would love to see another soccer park built in the valley, out of the wind and away from the water.
However, a group of stakeholders, which included Rocan, recently toured what might be the most promising solution to present itself in a while.
A parcel of land, northeast of Assiniboine Community College’s North Hill campus would be ideal for a new park. The land is owned by the government and city manager Scott Hildebrand said he’s already made calls about its availability.
"We found a good piece of land that is high and dry," Hildebrand said, adding the discussion is still in the "very preliminary" stages of development.
While the issue has been near the forefront for a number of years, Hildebrand said his phone lit up after the provincial government announced it was building another indoor soccer facility in Winnipeg, attaching it to the Garden City Community Centre grounds.
Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in Canada, but Brandon currently lacks an indoor facility and in many ways a suitable outdoor venue.
Last year, youth soccer players travelled to Shilo to take advantage of its indoor playing surface.
"These fields are very needed in the community," Hildebrand said. "We need to get our residents, both adults and kids, playing soccer again."
The location and timing could be ideal for the post-secondary soccer programs, which are still in their infancy.
ACC has been playing in the Manitoba Colleges Athletics Conference for one year and are set to be joined by Brandon University this fall.
In a perfect world, the new park would provide a pitch, complete with lighting and seating, for the clubs to use during the season. It could also be used to host large community events or provincials and include a series of other fields and mini-fields for children.
Hildebrand said he’d like to see the park built with a multi-stage approach so that it could accommodate cricket, ultimate and other sports in the future.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 5, 2014