By Jason A. Smith
Young soccer enthusiasts in Henry County now have a central location in which to gather and play, thanks to the local government's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) program.
The county has opened its new 43-acre Soccer Complex at Mt. Carmel Park, located at 307 North Mt. Carmel Road in Hampton. The total cost of the project is $2,122,380.51.
Ten new fields have been added, to increase the number of playing fields to 14, making it one of the largest soccer facilities in the state, according to Doug Stevenson, president of the Henry County Soccer Association, and Julie Hoover-Ernst, Henry County spokesperson.
The new facility marks the first time all of the 1,500 children in the Henry County Soccer Association's program could play in the same location, said soccer chief Stevenson. He said the development of the complex carries benefits for the children in his program, and for the county as a whole.
"Our first goal was to get everybody in one place," said Stevenson. "In the overall scheme of things, youth sports generate a lot of income, as far as tournaments. We've already been contacted by organizers of several tournaments looking to use the facility."
County spokesperson Hoover-Ernst has two children -- 11-year-old Luke, and 10-year-old Maddie -- who are members on soccer teams with the association. She expressed her excitement about the new complex, because it will enable her to watch both of her children's games instead of having to choose between them.
"It really gives peace of mind," Hoover-Ernst said. "It's magnificent for parents."
She added that the complex will allow the county to host more tournaments, thereby generating revenue for the local economy.
"It puts more people in our hotel rooms, dining at our restaurants, shopping in our stores, and contributing to the SPLOST program, which is what built the soccer complex to begin with," said the spokesperson.
The complex also includes a concession stand with bathrooms, a meeting room, and space for athletic storage. A new parking lot at the complex provides 400 additional spaces, and an overflow lot to house another 400 vehicles during tournaments.
Stevenson has been on the soccer association's board of directors since 2003. The complex, he said, will help to add more participants to soccer programs in Henry.
"Historically, we've seen that anytime we are able to add space, we increase membership," Stevenson said. "We saw it when we moved into the soccer fields across from the Henry County Administration Building in 2001, and we saw it again when we moved to the soccer fields at Mt. Carmel Park in 2005."
The soccer leader said three of the soccer fields, near the Administration Building, will be converted into four baseball fields. They are expected to be ready this summer, in time for the United States Specialty Sports Association Regional and State Tournaments, Stevenson said.
The county has issued a press release touting the opening of the complex. In it, Henry County District II Commissioner Fred Auletta credited SPLOST leaders for helping to expand recreational opportunities in Henry.
"Providing facilities for our children to play and participate in sports is very important, but we could not have built this facility were it not for the SPLOST III program," Auletta said. "It is as much an investment in our future as it is an investment in our children."
For more information about Henry County parks or athletic programs, visit www.hcprd.org.