WAUSAU – The sun warmed the grass on a recent Wednesday evening as dozens of young players chased soccer balls.
“Feet in the air! Make sure to stop the ball! The coaches called out to their players as the youngsters circled the ball back and forth across the field. Boys and girls worked hard to make sure they were ready for their next game, when he could. The wind lashed the players’ hair and clothing, but they brought it all onto the pitch.
The Eastbay Sports Complex has become a destination for sports players in the Wausau area, especially football leagues like MC United. The MC League isn’t the only sports organization that can be found on the field, but it is the largest, taking around six to 10 fields from the vast complex per day for their teams.
The resort is just over a year old and opened to the public in May 2015, after nearly three decades of discussion and planning. All 15 fields are located on what was once the Holtz-Krause landfill, which closed about 22 years ago. The Eastbay Sports Complex is located at 400 E Kent St., a short drive from Grand Avenue.
Recently opened, the complex has become a hub for youth soccer and a point of pride for the Wausau community. It has also become an economic engine for the region, generating $ 1.24 million at the inaugural Mountain Bay Cup tournament this year in May, according to Wausau / Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Dick Barrett.
Not only does the complex offer a central location where all teams can train at any time, but it also offers some of the best natural turf in the state, said MC United Treasurer and President Scott Cattanach.
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The MC United football league has 19 teams that have struggled to find a space to train in the past, Cattanach said. Now teams can be seen almost any day running up and down one of the many fields at the Eastbay Sports Complex. Teams are even able to come together for inter-league scrums, which have rarely, if ever, happened before the complex. Before the complex, it was difficult to bring the teams together in one place as they trained all over the Wausau area at different times of the day.
“We see the players so much more than before,” said Cattanach. “The teams can compete against each other and learn from each other’s work in a competitive environment, which was much more difficult when we were training everywhere.”
Jeff Foster, who coaches the U9 women’s team, is thankful that his players can now watch older athletes play during their training time.
“It’s nice to see the example of the older teams,” he said. “Because everyone comes together here.”
The MC United league consists of approximately 240 players. It also hosts the biggest event in football’s paradise, the Mountain Bay Cup tournament. A recent spring tournament drew 104 teams.
Some 1,400 players traveled to Wausau to compete on Eastbay’s fields and natural grass, taking 3,900 family and friends with them. This represents a total of almost 5,000 new visitors to the Wausau region.
“We constantly hear that the Eastbay courts are the best they’ve played on in Wisconsin,” said Cattanach.
League coaches say they have started to feel spoiled because of the pitches.
“This resort is a field of dreams,” said Jason Peak, coach of the U12 State League men’s team. “It’s almost wrong, it’s so good. It makes life difficult because when we go to other fields we have to play on inferior fields.”
Peak said his peers told him how lucky he was.
“Coaches all over the state cannot believe our domains,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the fields. We are lucky to have them. “
Last year the tournaments grossed nearly $ 1.6 million, said Scott Leigl, sales manager for the Wausau and Central Wisconsin Visitors Bureau. That total includes hotel rooms, food and the shopping that each person makes during the fall and spring tournament weekend, Leigl said.
The Marathon County Parks Department lists the resort as having approximately 124,000 visitors in 2015 alone, making it easy to see why the region’s economic impact has been so significant. Soccer and lacrosse are played on the fields, but soccer has the biggest impact.
“The economic impact must be enormous for all these families located in Wausau and its surroundings,” Cattanach said. “It can be difficult in any tournament to find hotel rooms, and I imagine it is the same in Wausau.”
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May 6 and 7 saw 1,600 room nights booked in Wausau, according to Barrett, who pulled the numbers from the STR Global Destination Report, which analyzes hotel data. Hotels in the Wausau area were up to 70 percent occupied. The high occupancy rate pushed revenues up by more than 30 percent over the weekend.
This total is expected to increase in the coming years as the number of tournament participants increases. But the resort will handle the growth without its own expansion, said Dan Fiorenza, the operations superintendent of the Wausau & Marathon County Parks Department.
“The whole site is in use and there is no place to go at this point,” Fiorenza said. “We are not looking into other areas either. We see this resort as meeting the needs of the community.”
What it takes to maintain a soccer complex
Every day, the Eastbay Sports Complex has two employees who make sure the fields are ready for the players. Here are some of the daily chores that Dan Fiorenza from the Parks Department says happens at the resort.
- Mowed three times a day, keeping the grass on fields at 1.5 inches and the grass around fields at 2.5 inches.
- Strips painted on the fields every week.
- Grassed and reseeded.
- Goals moved on and off the field depending on use.
- The spectator benches have moved.
- Maintained sanitary facilities.
- Emptied trash cans.
Complex crews strive to never have holes in the fields, so they also maintain their own sod farm in place, allowing them to replace pieces of the field that have been damaged.
“Our goal is to have the best natural turf in the state,” said Fiorenza. “It takes a lot of work.”