Community-City Partnership Brings New Life to Old Soccer Fields


Garfield Square Park - Before

Garfield Square Park - After

Garfield Square Park’s soccer field was barren and full of holes before the City Fields Foundation worked with the community to make renovations. Now, children play on a green, well-lit field, as shown here in before and after pictures.

The soccer field at Garfield Square Park in San Francisco’s Mission District used to be a brown, almost barren patch of land filled with holes. It was too wet to play when it rained and too dark for night games. Yet, children came.

“The field was so utilized that the grass would never grow,” says Dana Ketcham. “But, kids used to call it the place where you go to break your ankle.”

Ketcham is a board member for the City Fields Foundation. The organization has teamed up with San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department to make a real difference for kids, families and community groups who use the city’s athletic fields. It does it by gathering the resources – money and other assistance – to turn old dilapidated fields and facilities into places that bring a new look and greater quality of life to the neighborhoods that they serve.

The foundation was formed just two years ago by Bob, Bill and John Fisher, three brothers who grew up playing sports in San Francisco and who wanted to make sure that kids living there today got the same chance. Since then, the group has raised over $17 million dollars and gotten a commitment from the city for another $20 million.

And, Garfield Square has been transformed. It now has new modern artificial turf, goals, backstops and bleachers. Games can be played even after a heavy rainstorm, due to the new turf’s drainage system; and after dark under new flood lights. The group has also renovated Silver Terrace, a field near the Bayview District, adding the same amenities.

“Our goal is to increase the playing capacity of fields in San Francisco and city parks,” says Ketcham.

“We want to send a message that San Francisco is a family-friendly city,” says Melinda Gable, the foundation’s communications director.

To that end, the organization is working with the city to redesign old play spaces into ones that can be used for a variety of sports – softball, baseball, kickball, flag football and lacrosse, in addition to soccer. The partnership has also led to a new computerized system for handling field reservations. The on-line setup provides the kind of transparency that wasn’t possible when scheduling was done by hand. It leaves fewer people questioning how reservations are done.

The foundation has several new projects planned for the next year. They include a major facelift for Crocker-Amazon Playground, a field located in a neighborhood with more kids and families than any other place in San Francisco, the Excelsior District. The new facility will have five full-size soccer fields, new lights, bathrooms, bleachers and grandstands.

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Renovations are also planned for fields at South Sunset Playground in the Sunset District, where three soccer and two softball fields will be built and at Kimbell Playground in the Western Addition, where two softball and one soccer/multi-use field will be placed. The foundation has also teamed with the city to install lights at Franklin Square, another Mission District park.

“The work of the partnership is important because there’s not enough fields to meet the need; what we’re doing is going to help rectify that,” Ketcham says. The new fields allow for double-fold increases in playing time, lower maintenance costs and greater safety for users.

Susan Hirsch, of Hirsch and Associates, is the project director for the foundation. She says the renovations have done much more than simply provide new places to play.

“They provide hope …they provide opportunities for families to come together; …and a chance for others to get involved,” she says. “I’ve had some people approach me and ask ‘what else can we do’ after a project is finished.”

District 1 Commissioner Ilona Montoya is very pleased with the progress being made and very appreciative of Ketcham’s contributions.

“She has been instrumental in getting all of this together,” Montoya says.

The renovations began after Ketcham, who is a former Viking League president, walked every public playing field in the city (about 100 fields) and evaluated conditions and amenities. That information was used by the Parks and Recreation Department to assess present capacity and identify future needs.

Hirsch lauds the success of the community-city partnership and says other California Youth Soccer Association (CYSA) districts could use the model. But she makes it clear that the process takes a lot of commitment, passion and patience.

“It takes listening, compromise…and time,” she says.

Can You Make A Donation?
The City Fields Foundation still needs to raise $8 million dollars to reach its ultimate goal of $45 million. Any person or group who would like to make a donation should call Melinda Gable 415-837-5403 or email her at melinda@cityfieldsfoundation.org. You may also call her for more information on starting a similar group in your CYSA district.