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Soccer projects starting to heat up

Artificial turf, indoor facility discussed at WYSC AGM
soccer dreams The Whistler Youth Soccer Club hopes to see new infrastructure in the resort soon. PHOTO BY Shutterstock

If they build it, tournaments will come.

That's the Whistler Youth Soccer Club's (WYSC) hope for a proposed outdoor artificial turf field. The club, which also hopes to see a dedicated indoor soccer facility built at the resort, has long desired the additional infrastructure, and the dream seems to be a little closer to reality if discussions at the WYSC's annual general meeting at the Whistler Sliding Centre on May 27 is anything to go by.

While the pros and cons of different locations were discussed, including in Cheakamus Crossing, at Whistler Secondary School, among others, a new site would, ideally, accommodate grass fields in addition to the turf to help the sport's sense of community thrive, according to club president PJ O'Heany.

"You welcome 200 people — parents, kids. It's a plethora of smiles, screams of joy. It feeds itself," he said. "You have more ability to play more games in one place. If we could build the eight (hockey) rinks that they have in Vancouver, we'd love it.

"But we're restricted with land. We understand."

O'Heany added the club's "pipe dream" would be to have kids playing on new turf in September, but was doubtful of that timeline, instead offering the following fall as a more reasonable goal.

"By September 2016, if we had an extra field or the indoor field, it would expand our programming greatly," he said. "We are just trying to keep up with demand."

The club's registration numbers began to plateau a bit with 511 players in 2014-15 as opposed to 501 the previous year, but the community is still looking to catch up to field demand, as the number of players in the club has doubled in four years and more players are pursuing soccer as their primary sport.

"We see both (indoor and outdoor facilities) as essential," he said. "Turf gives us the ability to play longer and as many hours as we can pack in, whereas grass, you can't pack in too many more hours. Lights mean you can play 24/7."

The organization held indoor programming at Whistler Racquet Club this winter, but another roofed half-pitch option helps to extend the season and helps local players catch up to peers in the Lower Mainland, for whom the season isn't halted because of weather.

"We still have a problem with snow," he said. "We can't play on it when it's frozen. We still have that problem for a few months a year."

O'Heany explained while the club would like a full-sized indoor pitch, it is "almost impossible" from an engineering standpoint. The half-pitch option allows for indoor games for the under-12 and younger divisions, while it also provides a site for indoor training for all participants.

Several dominoes still need to fall into place to get the plan in motion. Planning is in a holding pattern as the Resort Municipality of Whistler awaits word on funding applications it has submitted.

"With Council support in April 2015 the RMOW submitted a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Gas Tax grant application to undertake a Site Suitability, Facility Programming and Preliminary Costing Study for a potential multi-activity indoor recreation facility. The RMOW understands from the Gas Tax Program that funding announcements will be later this year," RMOW senior communications officer Melissa Darou said in an email.

Darou added the RMOW's five-year financial plan has allotted $45,000 for an artificial turf and structure, which is considered as a "back-up plan" if any gas tax announcement does not coincide with the 2016 budget plan or if the gas tax application is not approved.

At the WYSC meeting, Coun. Jack Crompton, the club's vice-president, floated the idea of beginning fundraising soon so the club can hit the ground running when the project is able to proceed.

'Inclusive' programming lauded

O'Heany and executive head coach Phil Melun also heralded the abolition of scores and standings for under-12 divisions.

O'Heany said it's all part of trying to open the sport to as many participants as possible.

"If we put barriers up or made it too strict, then we would limit our numbers because we don't have a (large) population," he said.

Because of the smaller population, O'Heany explained it's difficult for the club to cater to a high-performance group in the resort.

"There's going to be an element of that group, because we're building skill level, who have the drive, the purpose and the direction to extend themselves," he said. "If we had the numbers that North Van had, we'd have it here."

Melun explained without the same number of kids to choose from compared to other associations — the number of players trying out for a team usually only exceeds the maximum roster size by just a few — and that can lead to greater disparity in skill level.

Seven Whistler athletes, including one of O'Heany's children, played for Vancouver-area teams last season.

"We're happy to have them go to those teams because that's the dream and it's not a program we can offer," Melun said. "We can't have a high-level team here because we don't have the members."