“There’s no place for the community to enjoy soccer,” said County Commissioner James Tate, who represents the area. “And most of the kids in the Highlands’ area play soccer.”
A testament to soccer’s popularity in Highlands: the K-12 public school there doesn’t offer football as a fall season sport, only soccer. But the Highlands community does not have a public soccer field. Instead, pickup games and practice takes place on the outfield of the baseball fields, or players shuttle to Franklin to participate in league play or take advantage of its fields.
“There’s a need for flat field space, basically,” Tate said of Highlands’ soccer field shortage.
To that end, county commissioners voted 3-to-2 last week to aquire more than 3.5 acres neighboring Zachary Park in Highlands for $150,000. About 2 acres was bought outright, and the rest was accomplished through a land swap by trading land the county owned elsewhere in Highlands for land contiguous with the budding recreation site. A portion of the newly amassed three acres will be developed for soccer.
It will take another $200,000 to develop the site into either one large, adult soccer field or several smaller, youth fields. That money hasn’t been budgeted yet.
County leaders were lobbied to fund soccer fields in Highlands after the county plunked down $500,000 this spring for land for a softball and baseball complex in Franklin.
It was the persistence of the soccer moms and dads that made the additional field a goal for Tate. Two years ago, he had identified the property as being prime for the purpose, but the owners were not interested in selling to the county. That is until several months ago when they approached him to start talks.
As Tate puts it, “That’s when we got the ball rolling again.”
However, Tate speculates it could be more a year or more before any site work takes place, especially since the funds haven’t been set aside.
But the price of the project has drawn critics. County Commissioner Paul Higdon opposed spending money that wasn’t budgeted for. Purchases of that magnitude should be planned for, and only emergencies should call for the county to fork over such amounts.
“I just think that’s how you run government — coming up with a solid budget,” Higdon said. “And you don’t go outside that budget unless it’s for an emergency situation.”
Higdon was also against the $500,000 to land purchase for a baseball complex at Parker Meadows recreation facility.
Local youth soccer organizers, nonetheless, applauded the effort to add soccer fields to the county, especially in a community that has embraced the sport but has a space shortage. The Macon County Soccer Club is growing dramatically with 300 players in the league this year, according to Matt Kolodzik, the club president.
A significant number are from Highlands and travel to the Franklin area to play. Kolodzik said additional fields would allow the club to consider Highlands more seriously as a practice or game site and expand participation there.
“We would probably have bigger participation from Highlands if we could have some more games up there,” Kolodzik said.
Investment in new soccer fields would also reverse what he sees as a trend in Macon County’s recreation priorities.
Kolodzik said he and other soccer organizers had to raise a stink when the draft plan for Parker Meadows was drawn up and included eight baseball fields but nothing for soccer. He said county baseball fields also tend to be lighted, while soccer fields are not. And soccer fields tend to be shared use fields with other sports.
“A lot of money typically goes into the baseball in the county,” Kolodzik said. “Most of the money does not tend to go to soccer.”