Will Miami become home to a super youth sports complex?

Florida News

MIAMI – If some residents, businessmen and women in Miami have their way, a youth sports complex the likes of which most only dream of will become a reality in Ottawa County.

Local business leaders Zeb Neese, Bryon Machado and Matt Whalen made a presentation to the county commissioners and other county officials Monday morning about an idea for a sports complex that they and others have been seriously working on for some time.

Neese told commissioners that they, along with Clayton Shumaker, have established a Youth Athletic Development Foundation in Miami with the goal of creating an all-county youth activity complex that would be one central place for all youth sports — softball, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and more, both indoor and outdoor.

The foundation has already received non-profit status and has formed a board that includes 14 people, seven of which will be voting members and the rest advisors, according to Neese and Machado.

The board, besides the original four, includes Bob Carter (representing agriculture), Russell Earls (Ottawa County), Elsie Grover (NEO), Byron Long (youth sports leagues), Tara Oelke (Integris Miami), Chuck McKibben (the City of Miami), Megan Frazier, Wade Walls, Billy Friend (the Wyandotte Tribe) and Melvin Gilliam.

Top on their agenda, in addition to applying for grants and raising funds, is to find a location that would suit the needs of such a facility.

Neese reported that he had a prior conversation with Earls, who is the District 3 commissioner, about property owned by the county out on old Route 66 that is currently home to a county farm and barn.

“The county farm’s south edge borders old Route 66,” Earls said. “We’ve got the 80 acres out there that the county farm and barn sit on that we don’t make hardly any money off of. It borders Ribbon Road out by the county cemetery.”

Neese said they are definitely interested in the property as a possible location where they could develop and help grow the sports complex. Noting that he has been told that the property is not in a floodplain, Neese said their tentative plans are for eight softball fields, four full size baseball fields, seven soccer fields, and a 120,000 square foot indoor facility.

“We have a preliminary rendering and that’s how it’s laid out right now,” Neese said. “That probably will change some over time. The soccer fields would actually be soccer/football fields. They could be used as multi-purpose. Some will be sod and some will be synthetic turf so weather doesn’t hinder playing.”

“As for the indoor facility, we are looking at that being a multi-purpose-type building also having a synthetic turf inside for indoor soccer, rugby, football … things like that. We looked at places like Titan Sports in Tulsa that has events going on all through the week and big tournaments on the weekends that draw people in from all around, like Dallas and Kansas. That’s a huge impact for their community and we see how that could better our community as well,” Neese added.

“Our dream is to pull all of the youth together to drive up participation. Statistics show that youth participation in sports has dropped approximately 13% in the last 10 years,” Machado told commissioners.

“Our other ideas for the complex include making it a community wellness center with a working gym and equipment, and even possibly bringing agriculture into it by installing facilities for horse, cattle and hog shows and rodeos, and maybe even a fairgrounds one day,” Machado said.

The original four board members have been looking at and researching similar facilities and have been impressed with the positive impact such sports complexes have brought to other cities, especially in tourism.

“Bringing everything (all the sports and events) into one facility, with one master schedule to avoid scheduling conflicts, would bring excitement back for area kids and, in turn, increase participation,” Neese said.

“We filed all the paperwork, got our non-profit status, created the bylaws, and got the operating agreement put together, and from there we put together the vision of what we would want, just to get it off the ground. Then we went out to other groups and said, ‘This is what we are thinking.’ It’s not set in stone but you have to start somewhere. We can mold it into exactly what we will end up with down the road,” Machado said.

The first initiative was to find a way to align all the area youth sports organizations, according to Neese and Machado.

“There hasn’t been a sports authority or a group that has taken every individual activity for youth and combined them to grow them together,” Machado said. “I think if we combine our efforts we can do bigger things. We aren’t fortunate enough in our small community to have a big tax or donor base to go out and build a complex.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t still go out there and do it, though. And that’s the approach we took.”

In order to get all the current youth sports aligned and working together, the foundation members talked to a lot of the different sports league presidents and then created the foundation’s website, which was the catalyst to bringing everybody together, according to Machado.

“We wanted to do electronic registration to give parents the ability to go to one website to get all the information for their children’s activities in one spot.”

With the new website and app, parents can register, pay fees, sign waivers, and order uniforms, etc., all from their phone or mobile app.

“And that was with a lot of help from David Frazier, who has been our technical IT guy on this. He went out and found a service that allows you to set up all your programs, your leagues, your divisions and your practice schedules online,” Machado said.

“So when parents go to set up their registration it shows all the different activities or programs that are available for that child based on their age. It shows when each activity registration opens, when the league starts, when games are, and when it ends. You can plan in April for what’s going to happen in September. There’s consistency for all the sports and events.”

If and when all this becomes more organized and consistent it’s going to drive participation up and keep local youth engaged, according to Neese and Machado.

For more information about the Youth Athletic Development Foundation, visit www.yadfoundation.com or e-mail athleticdevelopmentfoundation@gmail.com.

The group also has a Facebook page: Youth Athletic Development Foundation.

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