NAZARETH, Pa. (September 26)—The Nazareth Soccer Club, based about 20 miles northeast of Allentown, boasts 600 players across 50-plus teams and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The club has grown exponentially since its inception, when it had just 40 kids in its inaugural year.
To accommodate all of those young players, Nazareth needed to improve its field accommodations. Essroc Fields, the club’s home base, had become susceptible to rainfall and pooling on its surface over the last several years (the Upper Field in particular). Whenever it rained hard, especially during a very wet fall last year, Nazareth would often try Band-Aid methods like spending hours using a gas-powered leaf blower to alleviate wet spots or pouring garden soil and sand in puddles in hopes of making the fields playable. Often, the club would just cancel games.
So, in an effort to mitigate the $20,000 total cost to renovate and regrade Essroc’s field surface, Nazareth applied for and was awarded a 2019 Development Grant from Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. The Development Grant Program was established in 2013 to maintain and improve the infrastructure of soccer in the eastern part of the state, with the funding intended to go primarily toward field and facility improvement.
The Grant Program filled a crucial need for Nazareth, and will cover approximately 25 percent of the cost of renovations. The $5,000 check was presented to Nazareth SC President Rob Guroff and Vice President Jen Bennett by Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer board member on Wednesday night at halftime of the boys high school game between Nazareth and East Stroudsburg South.
“For us, of course, fields are an essential resource, but probably our most expensive resource,” Guroff said. “The tremendous rain of Fall 2018 damaged many of our fields. We found ways to improve them, but Upper Essroc definitely needed a lot of help.”
As Guroff spoke, dozens of youngsters from Nazareth SC gleefully played on the high school field around him during a halftime break. They are the present and future of the club, and, as Guroff pointed out, many of the players on the high school teams start out as tykes in the club. To continue developing the players, the club has to train them in the safest conditions possible, and the grant will help make that a reality.
“Ultimately, we need fields to train the kids,” Guroff said. “If the ball’s not rolling straight, it’s going to be tough to teach them how to dribble correctly. This funding will make our program available to more kids.”
The total amount of grants to be awarded in 2019 will be approximately $75,000 and may not be used to fund positions, travel expenses or registration fees. Since the program’s inception, the association has handed out more than a quarter of a million dollars to member organizations for projects ranging from field development (irrigation and field construction) and lighting to upgrades for pavilion and concession facilities.
“We are proud to offer this grant so Nazareth Soccer Club,” Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer CEO Chris Branscome said. “We work tirelessly to provide enjoyable experiences for all of our youth players, and so much of that is having access to quality fields and facilities. These grants continue to help us impact and grow soccer throughout eastern Pennsylvania.”