Swope Village inspires enthusiasts, grows soccer in KC

Youth Soccer-Swope Village

JANUARY 2015 – The opening of Swope Soccer Village was intended to bring a soccer presence to the inner city and give kids greater access to the “world’s game.”

It has become so much more than that.

Contributing to Kansas City’s growth as soccer capital of America, Swope Village has become a place to inspire kids and soccer enthusiasts of all ages.

“There’s a wonderful aspirational aspect to Swope Village,” said Sporting KC vice president of development David Ficklin.

The world-class soccer facility, which opened September 12, serves as a host site for Brookside Soccer, the Sporting KC Academy and Sporting KC’s training facility, and partners with Swope Corridor Renaissance/Upper Room, a youth education and development organization.

It started simply enough.

When ONGOAL, LLC purchased the Wizards they needed to develop a training facility and also meet the MLS mandate of developing a youth academy. A year after negotiating a public/private partnership and using TIF money to build the facility, they opened the first synthetic field in the KC Parks & Rec system.

“We realized immediately we had opened a Pandora’s Box,” Ficklin said.  ”So many people wanted to play on this field. We had to say no to more than say yes. What happened was an area that was a real challenge for the city became an amazing transformation.”

Brookside soccer, the longtime Swope Park tenant, which had stopped growing because of space limitations, was able to hold practices and games without their players having to travel to distant locations.

“It gave them an opportunity to grow and add programming,” Ficklin said.  “It allows people in KC, Mo. to play. It brings people from Kansas and out-of-state over. In league play we have people from Iowa and Oklahoma coming to play. On a weekend in the spring or fall there are 5,000 people coming to Swope. From Kindergartners playing recreation to U18 with an eye to becoming pros, they are playing on the same field as their heroes.”

Sponsor-YouthSoccerjpgThe transformation has included renewed growth for Brookside Soccer while also permitting unusual opportunities for Upper Room.

Upper Room began 15 years ago, as its name implies in an unused upper floor of St. Louis Church as an after-school and summer youth program.  In 1999, 250 kids registered for the initial 90 available slots.  It now includes almost 3,000 kids at 24 inner-city locations.

“In broad terms, our mission is to provide high quality education for kids in the urban core,” said Upper Room Executive Director Jerry McEvoy.  “Our job is to educate these kids.  Reading is our forte.  Johns Hopkins considers us one of the top programs.”

The eight-week summer program is designed to bridge the gap between school years, a time when learning typically regresses.

“We get in here and we hit the ground running,” McEvoy said. “What we’re trying to do is send the back in the fall at grade level or above. Some of these kids go right to the top. The kids who have been reading all summer have gained quite a bit and they come back to school ready to work.”

Johns Hopkins University research showed kids typically regress educationally during summer months. With Upper Room’s summer program they instead gained five months in reading.

“It’s tough getting back (to learning),” McEvoy said. “We don’t have that loss.”

Upper Room also sponsors a wide range of other activities, especially in the summer, including swimming, martial arts, partnerships with Alvin Ailey and Em’s Spotlight for free dance lessons and the year-round Eddie Baker School of Music program that provides weekly lessons to 250 kids.

“Our jazz ensemble is the best in the city,” McEvoy said. “Our GED is without a doubt the best in the city.”

When it came time to choose a recreational sport, soccer became the best option.

“Our mothers said no basketball,” McEvoy said.  “They wanted their kids to learn other sports, like soccer. About eight to ten years ago, (Heartland Soccer Association Executive Director) Shane (Hackett) came in and introduced us to that. He was with that tremendous organization in Johnson County and he came out with a hundred soccer balls and got 3,000 kids involved. It really worked out great. Our kids love it. They love the soccer and love the exposure to other kids outside their community.”

The Swope Village addition is icing on the cake.

“Now, to have that soccer field is unbelievable,” McEvoy said.  “It’s literally out of this world. The kids recognize that it’s top of the line. It’s just more exposure to great stuff and it’s great for them to be part of it.”

Soccer and other programs also help the urban kids engage with society and develop their social skills.

“When these kids get involved, their personality comes through,” McEvoy said. “Kids get the social requirements they really aren’t getting with daily school. Shane used to send us the Johnson County All-Star team with kids from all over the world. Our kids would try to figure out what country they are from. They love the idea of seeing kids from all over the world.”

Said Ficklin, “It’s so important to have investment on the east side of KC. That’s why I’m so pleased to partner with Jerry and Shane to give these kids access to this world class facility.  (Sporting KC) likes to be part of the community. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to achieve such success. We embrace our community. We’re building new fans and we have great players that like to get out in the community.”

Swope Village also hosted the Big 12 Women’s soccer championships each of the past two years.

“It was one of those ‘goose bump moments’ when they came out and walked on the championship fields,” Ficklin said. “It was amazing to see the women running on the field and screaming with joy. They’ve accomplished their dreams. To hear them say ‘this is the coolest field’ is really heartwarming.”

This December Swope Village hosted the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s championships. It will host the Division III championships next year and the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s championships in 2016 and 2017.  The facility will also play host to the U.S. Women’s National team when it begins training in October.

“(Sporting KC) won the MLS cup (in 2013), and Kansas City has become a perennial stop for Men’s and Women’s world cup qualifying,” Ficklin said. “We have the (U.S.) National Team Gold Cup and the Men’s Final Four Division I in December 2015 at Sporting Park. We’ll have two years of Division II and III. Sporting KC, FCKC (women’s pro soccer) and the Comets have all won championships. Basically every soccer event that has been held or is going to be held has been in KC. There’s an incredible soccer culture metro wide.”

The Swope Village cultural experience includes World Cup players, like Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, giving area kids a chance to play at the same venue.

“When they’re playing at Swope, they can look over and see Matt Besler, now a captain of his hometown team, who played on the World Cup team,” Ficklin said. “There’s no greater goal. You can go out and see Matt and play on the same field.”

To learn more about Swope Soccer Village, Upper Room or Heartland Soccer Association, visit their websites:

http://www.sportingkc.com/swope-soccer-village

http://www.upperroomprogram.org/

http://heartlandsoccer.net/

Article by Marc Bowman

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