By: Scott Emigh, Editor-in-Chief
Quality of Life has become an increasingly important issue in the modern community. Even in years where the State of Oklahoma is dealing with massive revenue shortages, businesses are closing, and citizens are looking for more bang for their buck wherever they can get it, one thing remains clear. People want a higher quality of life.
Join any local Facebook gossip site and you'll see people expressing a desire for more activities, more restaurants, more things to do--especially hangouts for children and teenagers. While the City of Tulsa is currently constructing a $350 million "Gathering Place" along the Arkansas River, just ten miles up the road Sand Springs is building its own gathering place on the river.
Case Community Park, as the land will officially be dubbed in October, or River City Park, as it is currently known, is home to many quality of life projects for the Sand Springs community. The park is the home of the Sand Springs BMX Association, Sand Springs Little League, the Sand Springs Round Up Club, and more. The largest organization to call the park home is the West Side Alliance (WSA), partnered with the Sand Springs Soccer Club (SSSC).
"Whether it be soccer, baseball, or softball; kids' sports are a quality of life issue for any community," says SSSC President Jeremy Herrington. "It's something that the cities have to be engaged in and supportive of. Not every city can afford to put a huge amount of money towards a program. The City (of Sand Springs) has given us the land grant here and the usage and that's been wonderful. It is then upon us to make it great for the community."
Herrington has been with SSSC for fifteen years, and the program has flourished during his tenure.
Traditionally, youth athletes play in either recreational sports clubs or competitive sports clubs. Recreational is more laid back. Anyone who signs up gets to play. Games are played close to home, coaches are volunteers, and play is geared more towards learning and having fun than actual winning. In competitive sports the coaches are often paid, the teams travel for diversity in their opposition, and the best players play the most.
"West Side Alliance and Sand Springs Soccer Club is unique in that we operate as a one-club concept," says Herrington. "We use the licensing and experienced coaches of WSA to drop back and help our youth players learn the fundamentals at a very young age."
"We are reaching out into the schools, reaching out more into the community. It's the ultimate goal of the WSA for more kids to enjoy soccer both in the love of the game and in the fundamental skills of the game. That way once they make a transition to recreational or competitive--they're playing. Our model is unique. We're seeing a greater retention rate of players and kids that truly love soccer."
The club has certainly grown. Between the two programs, the organization boasts more than a thousand kids. Herrington expects it to continue to grow, especially as the new park is unveiled.
In fact, the club has nearly outgrown its facilities.
The annual WSA Cup tournament was held this past weekend and nearly ten thousand people turned out for the event--though not all were in Sand Springs. The WSA also utilizes the Westbank Soccer Complex.
"We didn't know how we were going to make (the WSA Cup) happen at this facility," said Herrington. Then City Manager Elizabeth Grey and Parks Director Grant Gerondale stepped up with the idea of using the City trolleys. "The Parks Department is wonderful. They communicate well. They've been trying to help us at every level. We were looking at having to move to the Mohawk Park Soccer Complex because the tournament was growing so large.
The trolleys helped with day one, allowing the organization to utilize satellite parking and transport attendees. Unfortunately, for the first time in the organization's 25-year history, the second day of the tournament was cancelled after Saturday night's downpour left only eight fields playable with standing water on a dozen others. They also lost more than half of their parking and were forced to call off the event.
This year's disappointment aside, the organization is excited for the future. Part of the park remodel includes new fields and a paved parking lot for the first time. They already got new restrooms and concessions last year, located next to a state-of-the-art splash pad.
SSSC runs the new concessions stand as a fundraiser for the program, and they've worked hard to create a quality experience for all of the park's users. The stand offers a smattering of food and drink options, anchored around a Harper's Hut Shaved Ice & Java franchise.
"Harper's Hut has been hugely fundamental in showing us how to run a concession stand, how to set up for birthday parties and events in general," says Herrington. "It allows us to put money back into the fields. We just purchased seven new goals funded through this last season's concession sales. It's huge for the program, it's huge for the kids."
WSA and SSSC are all about the kids.
"Its about seeing kids all the way up through their twenties enjoying the love of the game. In the past, kids would play recreational then they would just drop off if they didn't have the skill-set, the natural talent, or the drive to play competitive. It is a higher level of commitment to play competitive. We were just seeing kids drop off and not play anymore. We wanted to change that from the inside out."
"Club is club. It's a family, it's unity. It's a part of the community. Not every kid is meant to play competitive. We have worked very hard to create an environment where kids at both levels can thrive."
"They go to school with each other, they come here and play with many of their classmates, and they're forming bonds throughout their community. We're seeing a greater flow of recreational players at the high school level, whereas before it was strictly club players."
"It's all part of progress in the making," says Herrington. "When you take a community that doesn't have programs like these, it's like a ghost town. There's nothing for the kids to do. There's nothing for them to interact with."
For more information on the WSA and SSSC, visit http://www.wsasoccer.org