New pitches, more opportunities for soccer players
Two additional pitches will soon rise at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville to further support the continued growth of the sport on the islands.
The pitches are part of the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association’s NMISTC expansion project that broke ground last Saturday afternoon. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres joined NMIFA president Jerry Tan, the NMIFA Executive Committee, other NMIFA officials, and the sport’s stakeholders in the groundbreaking ceremony.
With the extension, the facility will have two main pitches and two secondary fields and Torres, in his remarks at the ceremony, believes this development will create more opportunities to the NMI, especially the islands’ players.
“I learned we have kids who are part of NMIFA program that are now playing and studying in college. They will never have that opportunity without the NMIFA program and this facility. Thank you NMIFA, thank you coaches, volunteers, and parents,” said Torres.
Since 2005, there are more than 20 NMIFA players that were able to play in the collegiate level or are still playing and many of them have also earned athletic scholarships. For the 2022 season alone, five have already committed to play for universities in the U.S. mainland.
Besides the opportunity to play in the collegiate ranks, NMIFA vice president Vickie Izuka, in her message at the groundbreaking ceremony, took note of NMI players’ chance to travel, compete, and represent the islands in international tournaments—something that she didn’t imagine happening when they started the association 17 years ago with only a little over 100 players joining the group.
“I’m very proud of what we have accomplished. I never thought we would have two beautiful pitches and now two more on the way. But, it’s not just the pitch, but the opportunities for our children, for the community at large. Our players get to travel and compete, learn life skills, be healthy, and build relationship through the NMIFA program and the facilities we have,” Izuka said.
The NMIFA vice president added that the availability of facilities has allowed the association to continue growing the program. From 100 plus (youth players only), the NMIFA has over 1,600 players from all age groups and has also strengthened its interscholastic program through the help of the CNMI Public School System.
NMIFA grateful to supporters
Meanwhile, Tan looked back briefly at the opening of the NMISTC in July 2018 and how it sustained damage less than four months later when Yutu hammered the NMI.
“I came out one morning to see the damage to the facility. It’s was tough, but I know we will rebuild and get the facility back for our community. It was a rough journey as Soudelor came and then COVID-19 pandemic, but with teamwork and the support of everyone in the community, we are able to move forward and now we hope to see you all back for the ribbon cutting of the new pitches in August,” the NMIFA president said.
Tan thanked the Asian Football Confederation for providing assistance to rebuild the secondary pitch, while NMIFA general secretary Ross Zapanta acknowledged Torres, the Department of Public Lands, and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs for the partnership for the expansion project. The two NMIFA officials also thanked private businesses that have been supporting their program as well as the eight clubs, Japan Football Association, Chelsea Soccer FC Hong Kong, and parents/guardians of players.
Tan said that with the two additional pitches on the way, he hopes to see more parents play, too as he wishes to have opportunities and programs for soccer moms and dads.
“If we have more parents playing, I am sure they will also bring and encourage their kids to play and we will continue to see the growth of the program,” said Tan before taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony.
Last Saturday’s event coincided with the opening of the NMIFA Spring Youth League where nearly 1,000 children are participating. NMIFA saw a 47% increase in its youth league participants despite of the pandemic, while the women’s and men’s program had 30% and 12% growth, respectively.