By Isaac Constans
Listen Up, Lansing staff reporter
Hidden in the shadow of the Capitol, squeezed between 120’ x 60’ walls, on top of ground-up shoe soles and synthetic grass lies the international hub of Lansing. Beacon Field, opened Sept. 2, has quickly captivated neighbors and visitors as the prime location to meet a diverse crowd while communally enjoying “the beautiful game.”
Such has been the experience for Chad Stevenson and his three sons, Jacob, Matthew, and Nicholas. They make the four-minute drive to Beacon Field at least once a week, and he thinks the ritual has been hugely beneficial for his sons.
“I think (Beacon Field) is special because these boys are playing players from all different countries and all different skill levels, and it’s definitely making them a lot better,” Chad Stevenson said.
The very first time Chad Stevenson came, he was immediately encountered by people with distinctly opposite backgrounds. Stevenson, a believer in the importance of cultural exposure, has made a point to come back ever since.
“When I first came up here, I introduced myself to a guy and said, ‘My name is Chad,’” Chad Stevenson said, “He said, ‘Oh Chad, that’s my country.’”
This is exactly what founders Scott Dane and Camron Gnass envisioned when they embarked on a project to help better Lansing. Dane, executive director of Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and coach of the Michigan State men’s club soccer team, pointed to soccer’s ability to promote culture-rich experience.
“On any day, people of all different ages, races and backgrounds have a safe, reliable community to come to,” Dane said. “It doesn’t matter your color, your economic status, or anything else when you step onto the soccer field.”
Furthering this approach is the design of the field. The 120’ x 60’ surface is a diminutive model of the regulation soccer fields inside the Hope Sports Complex. From a bird’s eye view, the field looks more like a green court for basketball, the game that was considered when deciding upon the dimensions of the field.
“There are basketball courts over there [the west end of the park] that always have people on them, even though it’s just hoops and cracked cement,” Amanda Denny, chair of Friends of Ferris Park, said. “If you want to play soccer, usually you have to organize large teams and that can be very difficult. We wanted to make sure that this was more of (a pickup) style.”
Beacon Field has a four-foot-tall kickboard that serves as the boundaries for the field. Behind the goals, netting rises far into the sky to keep the ball in play. Therefore, the play is up-tempo and the ball rarely is out.
“It’s awesome because it’s continuous play,” Chad Stevenson said as 13-year-old Jacob Stevenson, sporting a Liverpool jersey, launched a shot towards goal. “The walls keep the ball in so you’re not always chasing the ball. It’s go-go-go. It’s never out.”
Brett Kaschinske, Lansing Parks and Recreation Director, said that the committee for the building of Beacon Field favored field dimensions and locations that best foster the mingling of otherwise-separate communities.
“Something that we’re getting less and less of is just open free play, where people come in, meet other people, and just play a game. Oftentimes, what we have is scheduled or based recreation. So this is really about showing up, having a pick-up game in the park,” Kaschinske said.
“And we’re able to do that in an atmosphere where the field will not wear because of the turf, the ball will be contained. We’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see, which is a great ethnic and socioeconomic diversity there playing the sport of soccer. We know it’s an international sport, we thought that would happen, and it has happened in terms of the clientele in Ferris Park.”
Green space is valuable in heavily populated areas, according to Louise Jezierski, a Michigan State associate professor of social relations and policy. In her studies on community building, Jezierski has found that such spaces are dwindling in number.
“We need spontaneous spaces for people to meet each other. So much of social life is planned, especially for children,” Jezierski said.
“I think that we are losing public spaces. I think it’s important to have more public spaces so people can meet from different neighborhoods, from different backgrounds, and have sort of a communal space, a democratic space, a space where dialogue can happen, especially for children and especially safe spaces… It creates this nice space for integrating community and for supporting community.”
Ferris Park, one of 114 parks in Lansing, was the ideal location for such a project, not only because of its immediacy to downtown but also because of the hospitable community.
“The community’s reaction has been totally supportive. They love the liveliness,” Denny said. “Even though there are kids playing noisily past 11:00 p.m. sometimes, I haven’t gotten a complaint yet.”
That support is quantifiable monetarily. The $200,000 field was funded 40 percent by millage funds for capital improvements and maintenance and 60 percent by private donations that were matched by an economic grant, according to Kaschinske. Overages went to a fund for the field’s maintenance.
“Every donation was equally important. From the $5 donations to the $20,000 donation, every one made just as much of a difference in making this a reality,” Gnass, cofounder of the project, said.
Those donations have created a field and community that people travel across the city to experience. However, some of the biggest benefits wind up back in the hands of the Ferris Park neighborhood.
Trevon Martin attends Everett High School and lives just down the street from Beacon Field. Martin, 14, says he and his friends have no desire to play soccer but watch matches in their free time.
“I definitely like that it gives the area more life,” Martin said.
Vincent Derks, a resident in Ferris Park Towers, enjoys the amenities of a nearby soccer field in an entirely different way. He tries to play four times a week and sees the crowded field as a tool to impart the beautiful game to others.
“You have a lot of people from Africa come here, from South America, from here. And we all bring different styles to the game and these kids, they deserve to learn it,” Derks, 23, said after finishing goalkeeping for the Stevenson brothers.
Derks said that he didn’t know Lansing had such a soccer community. For Lansing natives like Dane, however, it was just about highlighting it.
“I’m from the area so I always knew this place had a strong soccer culture,” Dane said. “There are tons of great fields but there were really none downtown… We saw the need and did our best to meet it.”
Soccer’s adhesive abilities to mend and grow communities were also showcased during this last World Cup in Brazil. Pelada, as it is known there, courts were developed to help grow communities and passion for the game in small, street venues. That same technique now extends to Lansing.
“If kids can play it in the middle of nothing, on dirt spaces, then this is a spectacular place to play soccer on,” Jezierski said, crediting soccer’s simplicity with its universal attraction. “If you look at those commercials that FIFA puts on, you know, where kids are just playing in the middle of the desert or the middle of a favela, than why not in downtown Lansing where it’s really nice?”
Soccer’s standing amongst sports as an international game makes it all the more effective for this community-building role, according to Jezierski. Especially for immigrant communities, soccer’s familiarity and simplicity help social integration. Inside the walls of a venue like Beacon Field, language barriers and other cultural gaps can disappear.
“That was the goal all along, to get all sorts of people out,” Dane said. “You know, soccer is a global game. We wanted to really capture that with the new field.”