February 28, 2024

Soccer enthusiasts say they will fully fund a mini-pitch at Maytag Park

Organizers ask council to reserve basketball court to be repurposed for new amenity

Brett Lundberg, the assistant soccer coach for Newton schools, said he and other soccer enthusiasts want to fully fund the construction of a mini-pitch at Maytag Park, so long as the city council reserves the basketball court to use as the base.

When someone wants to practice soccer in Newton, they will most likely visit the fields at Agnes Patterson Memorial Park and spend more time chasing their ball than improving their play. But local soccer enthusiasts have an idea that they say will not only improve skills but also provide a new recreational opportunity.

Brett Lundberg, assistant soccer coach at Newton schools and a former vice-president of the Newton Area Soccer Association, told council members during their Feb. 5 meeting that he and other football-loving residents want to fundraise up to $150,000 to construct a medium-sized soccer mini-pitch in Maytag Park.

All the city council has to do is reserve the concrete basketball court space for it to be repurposed into a mini-pitch. If the council follows through with the request, Lundberg and other individuals like Newton boys head soccer coach Zach Jensen can truly begin fundraising and applying for grants.

Youth sports has grown tremendously in the community the past few years. Lundberg recalled the days where he had to practice at elementary schools or wherever the team could find open grass. These days he is jealous of the kids that came after him that got to play games at Agnes Patterson Park.

Newton has come a long way, and Lundberg said that’s awesome for the kids in town and the organizations that promote youth sports.

“But there are different ways we can get kids playing soccer … That’s where this would help,” Lundberg said of the mini-pitch. “It’s designed for 3v3 to 5v5 games or just for a kid to be able to go out to Maytag Park and kick a ball and not have to chase it forever and a day because it’s a more contained space.”

Nick Cummins, parks operations superintendent for the City of Newton, said the mini-pitch project was presented to staff and the Newton Park Board in October. At the subsequent meeting in November, park board members voted in favor of recommending the project to city council.

According to the minutes of the Nov. 15, 2023 park board meeting, the mini-pitch was described as a new amenity for Maytag Park and would be low to no cost for the city. Lundberg stressed this point to council members, saying it would be a public-private partnership fully funded by donations and grants.

The mini-pitch would be 75 feet by 45 feet, and both staff and organizers see no need to make the facility any larger than that. Park board member Miranda Caldwell asked if the project would affect the disc golfers, to which Cummins said it would have little to no effect on the course.

Park board member Jeff Osby spoke highly of the project, saying it is a great idea and would be a good opportunity to add another amenity to the park.

Ben Brackett of Kick It Forward — a Des Moines-based nonprofit that finds innovative ways to eliminate financial barriers for youth to advance through soccer — told council members the organization has helped install more than 30 mini-pitches in the state alongside its partner Musco Sports Lighting.

The mini-pitch in Lamoni shows what a largeer facility could look like. Soccer enthusiasts in Newton are proposing to fully fund a mini-pitch with donations and grants so long as the city council can secure the basketball court space in Maytag Park to use as the base.

So what exactly is a mini-pitch? Kick It Forward said it is a small, futsal-style soccer field designed to provide safer places to play the game, and the system itself is ideal for transforming abandoned courts and other underutilized areas into places where children and families can come together.

“We’ve had a lot of success with it. We’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve had a lot fun, and people seem to be responding positively to it,” Brackett said. “We’re just here to support. We kind of act as, more or less, the developer connecting the contractor, connecting the people, work on the fundraising side.”

Celi Angel-Buenrostro of Musco Sports Lighting said the company has a goal to install 1,000 mini-pitches across the country by 2026. So far, more than 390 pitches have been constructed, with more than 80 built in the past year. Angel-Buenrostro said the mini-pitch system itself is made of galvanized steel.

“Our system is meant to be permanent, and it’s supposed to last for years to come,” she said of the pitch’s lifespan. “It’s made out of galvanized steel fencing, so it’s what we use for our poles, actually … In terms of longevity, we estimate it to be out there for a very long time.”

Since city council members could not vote on the matter this past week, no action was taken. But council members still asked questions. Council member Stacy Simbro commended the idea of the project arriving at no cost to the city, but he said there would be ongoing maintenance.

Lundberg and Angel-Buenrostro said the upkeep would be small, similar to what it would be to maintain the nearby tennis courts. Brackett said electricity is really the only ongoing cost, which is “pretty minimal.” The chainlink fence for the goals would serve as the nets, which Lundberg said gives the vibe of “urban soccer.”

Council member Melissa Dalton asked if the mini-pitch and basketball court could be combined together. Lundberg said they could theoretically be combined, but as a soccer coach he argued there are a lot of places for kids to play basketball at parks, driveways and indoor facilities like the YMCA.

“This would be the only mini-pitch in Newton,” Lundberg said. “If we get the go-ahead that we can do this, we’ve already got grants figured out that we’re going to start going after. Some of those do have deadlines that we have to work within. But, yeah, our plan is to go after those grants.”

As soon as the funds are collected, Lundberg added he would love to move forward with the project. Council member Randy Ervin admitted he isn’t a fan of soccer, but he thinks the idea is “wonderful” and he is excited about the opportunity the mini-pitch would bring to area kids.

Newton Mayor Evelyn George said what she loves most about the proposed project is that it would be a public-private partnership where there is minimal costs to the city and great citizen participation. Lundberg later told Newton News the mini-pitch could be a better facility for training than fields at Agnes Patterson.

“To me, it promotes better soccer,” he said. “If you’re on a huge field and you’re a kid, you’re going to want to see how far you can score a goal from. So you’re going out there smashing a ball, you’re missing the net and then you’re chasing it for 100 years. Whereas the mini-pitch you’re in a contained area.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.