Hawk Ridge Park open for soccer

The fields were dusty, full of stickers that got on shoe laces, there was never enough space for teams to play and parking was limited.

Three players from the Minnesota Stars FC soccer team showed young players some drills and played a friendly game in which the professionals showed ball handling skills when surrounded by kids. Shown here are Kevin Venegas (foreground) and Mba Ernest Tchoupe Ndefotsking (background). Shawn Chin is not pictured. Photo by Eric Hagen

Three players from the Minnesota Stars FC soccer team showed young players some drills and played a friendly game in which the professionals showed ball handling skills when surrounded by kids. Shown here are Kevin Venegas (foreground) and Mba Ernest Tchoupe Ndefotsking (background). Shawn Chin is not pictured. Photo by Eric Hagen

All of this has changed with the completion of a renovated Hawk Ridge Park in northern Andover that gives the North Metro Soccer Association two additional fields. Representatives from the city of Andover and the soccer association came together Saturday morning (April 21) to literally kick-off use of the facility.

As Mayor Mike Gamache kicked a soccer ball toward the goal, hundreds of kids simultaneously kicked their soccer balls onto the field. Some flew over the mayor’s head, who raised his hands in surrender.

“It feels like when you get on the field, it feels like you’re going to play a game that’s really big,” said Baraka Tarleton, 7, of Andover, who is a player on a U9 team, Chaos. “I get really shy.”

Many players and coaches were very impressed their first time seeing the field April 21. The field was off-limits for about two years for the project to get done and for the grass seed to have enough time to settle in.

“This will be a huge improvement,” said Jim Wangensteen of St. Francis who has been a soccer coach for 22 years, first at Armstrong High School and then for North Metro Soccer Association teams. “It’s important to have quality fields for the younger players.”

According to Wangensteen, who has a daughter Hannah on a U14 team and a son Jack on a U11 team, having a solid grass field makes it easier for players to improve their skills.

North Metro Soccer Association President Barb Anderson said the sand burs and clumps of weeds led to twisted ankles and were a mess. As she gazed over the new field, she said, “This is beautiful.”

The old full-size 225 by 360 foot soccer field was in rough shape because there was no black dirt top soil beneath the grass and having no irrigation system made it difficult to maintain, according to Assistant City Engineer Todd Haas.

The revised full field and the two new medium-size 150 by 300 foot fields are irrigated and ready to be utilized by U12 and younger teams.

Brenda Herman of Andover, who has a daughter Taylor on a U12 team and a son Jacob on a U11 team, said it is nice to have a facility associated directly with the association.

A large sign in the park notes this was developed by the North Metro Soccer Association and the city of Andover. The association contributed $100,000 to the $293,000 project, according to Haas. The city’s park dedication fee revenue from developers and park improvement fund revenue from taxpayers paid for the rest of the project.

Herman and some other parents said they usually had consistent practice fields, but game fields were all over the place. One day they may be at the fields by Oak Grove City Hall. Another day they would be by Riverdale Church in Andover. Another day they would be in Ham Lake.

The list goes on and on. According to Anderson, there are about 50 fields the association utilizes for practice and games. It often has to be creative when looking for space.

Sean Beggin, director of coaching for the association, remembers a time when teams warmed up in the old hockey rinks area at Hawk Ridge Park by the baseball field. They had to keep their eye out for flying baseballs during batting practice.

The baseball diamond is gone now and the hockey rinks are farther east in Hawk Ridge Park.

The Andover City Council once contemplated scrapping the hockey rinks because of the time it took city maintenance crews to drive up to the park on the border with Oak Grove. The neighborhood did not like this idea at all, so the rinks just moved to another area of the park.

The city asked the Andover Baseball Association to play more at the under utilized Timber Trails Park west of the Tulip Street and 178th Lane intersection, Haas said.

Valerie Holthus is happy that the rinks stayed and really likes the soccer field improvements. Holthus lives near Hawk Ridge Park and was on the Park and Recreation Commission in 2009 when the city decided to work with the soccer association on this project. She is no longer on the commission, but now serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“Compared with just a neighborhood park with playground equipment, this is a true idea of what the city considers a regional park,” Holthus said.

The numbers show that this will be a regional park. Beggin said Andover kids make up about 53 percent of the approximately 2,300 players in the North Metro Soccer Association, but many other kids are from Anoka, East Bethel, Ham Lake, Oak Grove and St. Francis.

Mark Miller was the field coordinator when the association started looking into field projects. He said the board of directors contemplated numerous options and there were split opinions on artificial field turf, which the soccer association and other sports association representatives are now exploring with the city of Andover.

At the time, Miller said some were concerned about the large investment that comes with artificial turf.

The decision was to stick with real grass, but they needed irrigated fields and a location that was generally in the middle of their coverage area. Hawk Ridge Park met this criteria and it leaves open the possibility of even more fields in the future, Miller said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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