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After a decade of planning, the city's "flagship" active park, to be built in 2016, will include four soccer fields, three ballfields, four tennis fields, two basketball courts and eight pickleball courts at the Tustin Legacy.
For youth sports teams, it is a much needed boon. Some league officials have been watching the planning of the park for years, hoping for more field space.
With sports including soccer and lacrosse continuously growing in recent years, there are not enough fields or practice time, according to organization officials. In Tustin, young baseball and softball players often run drills in the infield while soccer or lacrosse teams simultaneously use the grass outfield.
"Sports fields are probably the No. 1 need, I think, in the Tustin area," said Jon Fox, head coach for boys' lacrosse at Foothill High School and president of the Orange County Lacrosse Association. "Tustin is a sports town, ... but we really don't have the facilities to host the kids playing."
The 31.5-acre, $13.1 million planned park at the Tustin Legacy is designed to meet that need.
"We can't serve all of the youth sports teams or leagues that actually approach us for facilities (currently)," Parks and Recreation Director David Wilson said.
Youth organizations, from Little League teams to softball teams to the American Youth Soccer Organization, share limited space at Tustin's parks and school sites.
Priority goes to these open-registration, nonprofit groups, and then to club teams, Wilson said. Demand used to be concentrated in fall, but with the introduction of year-round sports and the addition of lacrosse in the late 1990s, demand is high all year long, Wilson said.
Fox, who helped start middle school lacrosse teams in the city, and other coaches said that lacrosse and the growth of AYSO soccer have helped push demand for fields.
"It's gotten pretty dramatic in probably the last four years," said Jody Keplar, president of Tustin Girls Softball and commissioner of the Orange County Softball Federation. "Because (AYSO) has grown, there's been a trickle-down effect" of more competition for school fields.
Fox estimated that about 1,200 athletes play lacrosse in Tustin. AYSO includes about 2,600 kids, with a high of 170 teams in fall, according to incoming regional commissioner Jon Hersey. If there's a youth sport larger in Tustin, Hersey doesn't know it.
"Because AYSO is growing and club soccer is growing as well, they're encroaching in on us, asking more and more during times we're playing baseball," said Mike Peterman, coaching director for Tustin Western Little League.
The organizations meet a few times a year to work out scheduling, and often share space to help each other, said Peterman, who oversees about 410 kids in 50 baseball teams.
"We really don't have many fields to practice on, so we've had to get creative in how we deal with it," Peterman said.
Tustin Western and lacrosse teams might practice at the same time on fields at Hewes Middle School, for example: Baseball players stop live-hitting, instead running drills, using batting cages and fielding ground balls on the infield, Peterman said.
"We're all a community. We have to share," said the North Tustin resident, who has been a part of Tustin Western for 30 years. "There are people on the fields seven days a week, from early January to end of July."
Tustin Girls Softball does the same, working only on infield skills and base running while soccer teams use the outfield. All fall practices are shared this way, Keplar said. Because there aren't enough places to practice in the fall, several kids get turned away and there are fewer teams, she added.
"It gets chunked up because soccer is in the outfields," Keplar said. "It becomes a safety concern. Hopefully this (new park) takes that off, so it's less of a safety concern."
Hersey added there are instances when softball kids will get hit with soccer balls or vice versa.
"It's hard, you've got 10-year-olds or 8-year-olds ... walking to soccer practice right across a softball field," he said.
LIGHTS AND ASTROTURF
Coaches and city officials have pointed out that kids now often play the same sport all year around, so the fight for field space doesn't stop as seasons change.
There are only two lighted sports parks in the city: Tustin Sports Park with two soccer and three ball fields, and Columbus Tustin Park with four softball diamonds that are overlaid with two soccer fields.
"That's two lit sports fields - it's hard to serve 79,000 residents," Wilson said. "These sports fields will be a huge addition to helping serve our youth sports groups."
Having more lighted fields will be a "gold mine," Fox said, a sentiment echoed by other sports officials.
When it gets darker earlier in the day, it's hard to hold evening practices without lights, as is the case at other field sites. And it's harder for parents to leave work to get kids to early afternoon practices, Peterman said.
Peterman said the hope is to get lights at Tustin Unified fields to extend practice. Another suggestion from coaches is artificial turf, so that fields can endure more wear and tear and don't need to be closed down for months of regrowth. City officials have voiced mixed opinions about artificial turf, including cost and possible health concerns.
The battle for grass (or dirt) isn't unique to Tustin, coaches said.
"I think a lot of cities face the some problems, field space is always in demand," Hersey said. "I think it's a particularly tough problem for Tustin because we just don't have a lot of open-use field space."
Driving through Tustin, there are essentially two primary soccer fields at Tustin Sports Park and another two at Columbus Tustin in the softball outfields, Hersey said.
"Whereas driving through Irvine, you'll see 20-plus dedicated soccer fields."
The plans for a park at the Legacy have been in the making for at least a decade.
"It's been so long in coming that no one's sure if it will materialize," Peterman said. "There's a lot of hope."
Following construction documents and environmental reviews, the project will go out to bid and construction is estimated to start by summer 2015, Wilson said.
Keplar expects the new sports park to take some of the pressure and usage off other fields in the city. Because so many teams want Tustin Sports Park and Columbus Tustin, Parks and Recreation has to offer groups other parks such as Peppertree to try to meet the overwhelming number of requests.
Eleven organizations are signed up to use city parks from this July through December, and some organizations have multiple teams. For example, AYSO and Orange County Lacrosse Association have a total of 5,000 kids, according to data from Parks and Recreation supervisor Christine Zepeda.
"Having additional fields is going to help lacrosse and every sport," Fox said. "Hopefully, we won't have to encroach on softball/baseball fields quite as much.""
Even more, the number of lacrosse teams could easily double, if there's more field space and coaches, Fox said.
"This park is going to have a lot of uses," Wilson said. "It's an active facility and encourages people to get outside and exercise."