Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I recently watched the Morocco/France match at Olde London Road English Pub, a true soccer bar in the River Arts District. I watched the Iran/U.S match there as well. Any soccer bloke or hooligan would be right at home. If the crowds there and other Asheville venues are any indication, the sport has captured the imagination of this area. So what is going to happen? The City Council is turning the old Memorial Stadium — probably the lone Asheville soccer venue — into a track field. Is that still the plan? Will soccer remain there?
My answer: I must admit, some of those World Cup games were as exciting as any sporting event I’ve ever watched. I’ll also admit that is a sentence I never thought I would write in this lifetime.
Real answer: City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller noted that Memorial Stadium serves as a multipurpose facility that currently accommodates soccer, football, flag football, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee, and, in the future, track and field.
“The field’s soccer lines will remain within the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) standard regulation soccer field size when the track is complete,” Miller said.
While that is technically correct, the field still won’t be adequate for the Asheville City Soccer Club, according to Tim Blekicki, the club’s director of community engagement.
“The 2023 seasons will not be played at Memorial because of the track construction that is slated to begin May 1, which is the same week our seasons begin,” Blekicki told me via email. “However, moving forward we do not believe Memorial is an appropriate venue for our ambitions.”
Blekicki said the six-lane rubber track to be built around the field will reduce the width of the field to 53 yards.
“While it is true that this is slightly above the minimum set by the governing body of FIFA at a width of 50 yards, fields that small are recommended for matches for 12-13 year olds by most soccer (or football) associations,” Blekicki said. “In fact, it would not meet the minimum standards set by the NCHSAA for high school matches at 55 yards.”
The pre-professional leagues that Asheville City Soccer Club competes in have a standard of 70 yards width for a soccer field, which mirrors those of the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer.
“From day one the purpose of the club has been to create a pathway to professional soccer that our local players can aspire to climb,” Blekicki said. “To ask our local athletes to compete on Memorial’s reduced sized turf that does not meet these standards would be similar to asking the Asheville Tourists to play on a Little League-sized baseball field. It would also cause our local athletes to seek opportunities to further their careers elsewhere — the very situation we wished to remedy in the first place.”
The club does have a solution in place, at least for this year.
“In 2023 we will compete in at least 13 highly competitive home matches across both our women’s and men’s seasons at Greenwood Field at UNC-Asheville,” Blekicki said. “We have been thrilled with our conversations with Athletic Director Janet Cone and the Bulldog staff and look forward to successful seasons for our women, men, and academy teams.”
The City Council decision to put in the track at Memorial was somewhat controversial, but local residents, many of them African American, felt the city owed the community the track as well as other upgrades, as Memorial Stadium had long suffered from neglect.
Located on the side of Beaucatcher Mountain, Memorial Stadium opened as an athletic and special events facility in 1927, according to the city’s website. McCormick Field, which borders the stadium to the west and is home to the Asheville Tourists baseball team, opened a year earlier.
Memorial Stadium’s arched entrance was built to honor Western North Carolina’s 63 military members lost in World War I. In the 1960s and early 1970s, “much of the East End/Valley Street neighborhood that bordered Memorial Stadium was demolished and residents displaced through urban renewal projects, redlining, and the construction of South Charlotte Street,” the city website states.
For years, Memorial Stadium was home for athletic events for both Stephens-Lee High School, the city’s African American school during segregation, and Lee Edwards/Asheville High School Cougars, the white school.
“Memorial Stadium originally housed a cinder track used by the schools that was converted to artificial surface as technology changed,” the city website notes. “By the late-1970s, the track became a community recreation amenity as the stadium was no longer in use for competitive running. Portions remain near the southern end zone.”
The stadium languished for years. In 2003, the Memorial Stadium Task Force recommended resurfacing the field and removing the track to accommodate several sports teams, as well as special events. The turf was paid for through donations, grants, and by the Asheville Splash, a now-defunct minor league women’s soccer franchise, the website states.
In 2016, Asheville voters approved a $17 million bond referendum to improve parks and recreation facilities, and Asheville Parks & Recreation started planning for upgrades to Memorial Stadium and Mountainside Park.
The city’s project page offers more detailed information on the ongoing work.
The website notes these items have been completed as part of a $1.2 million bond-funded investment in the stadium: safety enhancements, the replacement of artificial turf, improved drainage, new stormwater infrastructure, installation of sidewalks along field ends, and ramp access to bleachers in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Known as one of the best atmospheres available in a publicly owned sports park, this investment means the venue continues to stay true to its long-standing intended use, accommodating multiple sports and providing public wellness opportunities for all Ashevillians,” the city states.
Second-phase improvements will include the hard-surface walking trail, a trike track, playground updates, scoreboard improvements, and replacement of the restroom and storage buildings.
“This phase also features the return of a walking, jogging, and running track that was removed during a previous renovation in the mid-2000s,” the city notes.
The new six-lane track will be available to the community during regular park hours for walking, jogging, and running.
“Unique to public parks in our region, this exciting addition celebrates the history of Memorial Stadium and allows community members of all ages to maximize low-cost exercise activities, minimize risk of injuries, and build healthy habits,” the city says.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 337-0941.