An enclosed soccer facility, like this one in Lansing, could be on the horizon for Grand Rapids’ Roosevelt Park. Courtesy Scott Dane
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Scott Dane learned about the Fédération Internationale de Football’s Centers for Hope.
The 20 facilities spread across the African continent include mini-soccer fields that attract children, and once they are drawn in, the sites act as community centers, helping educate the children about various aspects of life.
Dane, a Lansing native and lifelong soccer player, loved the concept. He took the plan back to Michigan, where he wanted to create a similar community force in his hometown.
His proposal gained traction — spurred on by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — and last year, the first Beacon Field was built at Ferris Park in Lansing near the Capitol building, opening in September 2015.
Now, Dane, who is executive director of the Capital Area Soccer League, a nonprofit soccer organization in Lansing, is working to bring a Beacon Field to Roosevelt Park in Grand Rapids. He hopes to have it completed by July 16 when U.S. Soccer legend Landon Donovan will be in town for a camp in conjunction with Grand Rapids FC.
GRFC owner Matt Roberts said he’ll do whatever it takes to get Donovan to the opening if the field is done in time.
“It’s a really aggressive timeline, but we’re hopeful,” Dane said. “It only takes about four weeks to build so that helps.”
Dane said many in the Grand Rapids and Lansing communities are supportive of the idea, including a key supporter of the Lansing project: Bob Trezise, Lansing Economic Area Partnership president and CEO.
“A lot of credit goes to him,” Dane said. “The economic impact piece isn’t great, but for him, he brings people into town and they always ask, ‘How is the soccer?’ because almost everyone plays soccer at some point.
“He likes that it plays into the attractive nature of the city.”
With the help of a variety of partners, the 60-by-120-foot, walled-in field in Lansing was completed for approximately $220,000. The actual cost of the field, which Dane wants to incorporate on a national scale, is likely near $300,000.
Once the project was complete, the field was handed over to the Lansing parks system as a community asset.
A camera placed on the field during the first several months indicated it is often the site of a 10-on-10-player game with 10 players waiting on the sidelines in a “score and you stay” game format.
The Lansing field is open to everyone at all times, whether it’s games of 3-on-3 or full 11-on-11 soccer. Since it has been open to play, there have been zero incidents of vandalism or conflict, Dane said, which was an early concern.
“It’s a miracle, but it’s something we worried about,” Dane said. “The lights go off, based on a timer, at 11 p.m., but there are multiple reports of people playing after 11 — sometimes at 3 a.m. — lit by the park’s floodlights.”
Dane hopes once the Grand Rapids Beacon Field is built, a sustainable model can be duplicated elsewhere, including in a town in Texas that already has expressed interest in the program.
He said Grand Rapids was chosen as the second city instead of Detroit because of the potential ease with making it work quickly, despite Detroit being an ideal location for multiple fields. A former player of Dane’s who now works in Grand Rapids and who donated to the Lansing field provided connections to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the West Michigan Sports Commission.
While Beacon Field isn’t directly related to the sports commission’s goal of increasing sports tourism, it would help boost the overall sports mentality in Grand Rapids, said WMSC President Mike Guswiler.
“It would be in an inner-city community and give access to those who, without other means, might not be able to play regularly,” Guswiler said. “It would grow the popularity of soccer — and that’s something we want.”
Dane, who makes no money from the endeavor, said it’s all about believing in the power of sports.
“I’ve always believed in and loved the ability soccer has to bring people together and meld communities together,” he said.
“Bring a ball to a field, and everyone can play, whether they speak the same language or not. There’s just something inherently beautiful about that, and I want to capture it everywhere.”