LAMOINE — Thanks to some outside-the-box thinking, Acadia Fire Soccer Academy is back in business.
After losing its spring season to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Acadia Fire has returned to action via a nontraditional summer session that began June 3. Unable to play at its indoor facility, the club has found a viable alternative just five miles away from home.
Acadia Fire is currently playing on a patch of Lamoine land owned by Herb Watson, a passionate soccer fan and organization board member. The club has converted part of the 2-acre space into two soccer fields to provide players with fresh air and plenty of room to roam in the age of social distancing.
“It’s a nice place because it’s open and out of the way,” said Watson, a retired Mount Desert Elementary School teacher whose land is on the east side of Mud Creek Road adjacent to the Mount Desert Narrows. “It’s a great spot for the kids to be able to get out and be active.”
For years, Acadia Fire has conducted training sessions at its indoor facility on Bar Harbor Road in Trenton. The turfed facility provides a quality playing environment year-round, including the days in the winter and early spring in which outdoor play is not remotely tenable.
The pandemic, though, has made the Trenton facility a less-than-ideal option. In addition to the facility’s limited spacing, the indoor air circulation posed problems for an activity dependent on group and individual interactions.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to play there,” Acadia Fire Executive Director Emily Ellis said. “We needed something bigger in an outdoor setting if we were going to make it work.”
After Acadia Fire exhausted a few other potential options, Watson stepped in with the possibility of making his land available for use. The club was interested, and after Watson did some preliminary work on the property to see what could be done, he was more than pleased with the results.
“I figured, ‘Hey, it’s better than nothing,’” said Watson, who has two grandsons playing for Acadia Fire. “I didn’t know what kind of field we would get out of it, but after I mowed a section, I said, ‘Hey, I think this is going to work out.’”
Watson begin mowing two fields to training specificities, and several Acadia Fire coaches lined them both to create a pair of new soccer pitches. Just a few days later, the club became one of the few in Hancock County and the state at large to formally return to youth sports.
In most years, the fields behind Watson’s home are used for the purpose of gathering hay. This year, though, the possibility of using them for another purpose arose after a young farming family paid to take the hay off his hands.
“It ended up being a win-win for everybody,” Watson said. “I’m not losing money on it because they paid me for it, and I get to look down and see all the kids playing and having fun. It’s a great thing to see.”
In adherence to state guidelines in relation to community sports, training sessions do not allow for scrimmages or offensive and defensive drills. The club is also maintaining strict requirement for equipment sanitization in addition to conducting temperature checks and asking players questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms.
That’s not to say all parents have been comfortable with being able to return to action. Yet, after Acadia Fire conducted a survey of players and parents in the weeks prior to the start of play, most respondents indicated they felt safe with the club’s plan to get back to soccer.
“I would say the majority of each team has come out to train,” Ellis said. “We’ve kept players and their parents informed about the protocols in place and provided a lot of information on our website.”
At some point down the road, of course, Acadia Fire will be able to return to its home facility. As long as the pandemic lingers, though, those involved can rest assured that the club has a strong alternative.
“We’re really glad it worked out this way,” Ellis said. “People have been so happy to have something happening again, and it’s great to see everyone’s faces and see everyone engaged about soccer.”