“It’s a huge day. I can’t believe it is happening—it’s unbelievable.” Those were the emotions of Ernest Gonzales shortly before the ribbon cutting to open two new mini soccer fields at Eagle Park in Belen.
Gonzales, the Belen High School girls’ soccer coach, had help along the way, but the project was clearly his baby. Gonzales’ “vision” first appeared more than two years ago. “Why doesn’t Belen have soccer,” was the question Gonzales asked himself in 2021 when Valencia County didn’t have youth soccer leagues.
From there, his nonstop persistence came to fruition May 3 when soccer players, city and state leaders and representatives from New Mexico United came together to celebrate.
Among the first people Gonzales approached were Shawn Ammons, recreation supervisor for the City of Belen and Josh Kerns, City of Belen community and economic development director. Both were encouraging, but money was the issue. Gonzales contacted nonprofits, foundations and companies world-wide pitching the idea. No luck.
But his fortune changed after sending letters to state senators Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez. The senators were able to secure about $150,000 through the legislative budget process.
“It gives the kids a positive place to go, get together, and stay on the right track,” Senator Baca said. Senator Sanchez added, “Anything we can do to give back to the youth—it looks super amazing.”
The City of Belen kicked in $35,000 for landscaping, bleachers and wind screens.
The instillation of the synthetic turf was completed by Robert Cohen Company of Bernalillo. The turf was placed over the concrete of two seldom used basketball courts, which are now called “Futsal Fields.”
According to Ammons, “I think by having this court, soccer is just going to continue to grow,” in the community. Youth leagues returned to Belen and Los Lunas last fall.
As his vision was becoming a reality, a clearly excited Gonzales said the lighted fields will “promote cognitive development and keep kids fit.”
An added benefit is that the fields won’t need maintenance such as watering or cutting grass. Gonzales points out the facility can be used seven nights a week. “It’s just a benefit to the community.”
Although some work still needs to be done, including the placement of a windscreen and making it ADA accessible, the fields are now ready for future Lionel Messi’s and Alex Morgan’s of Valencia County.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.