BANGOR, Maine — Since becoming executive director of Fields4Kids plus coaching soccer, looking to build a new indoor sports and physical-activity facility and helping his wife raise two young children, MJ Ball has learned one thing for sure.
“It’s all about time management,” he said. “And apparently, I don’t need a lot of sleep.”
Ball had the idea for something like Fields4Kids several years, getting a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation to put together a facility that would allow local soccer players year-round access to practice and get lessons.
“This was my vision in 2008,” he said. “I basically wrote a grant to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and when I received a $100,000 grant, I formed a group of dedicated people to create the board and surround myself with some very good people, and we got it done.”
That became Fields4Kids, part of the former Saucony shoe plant on the Farm Road that now houses Beal College. Fields4Kids is in a 12,500-square-foot piece of that complex behind Beal College.
It was all-volunteer work then. Ball and the board members would man Fields4Kids when it was being used, but as it became busier, the time demands grew as well.
“When we first opened, two to three days a week from 6-9 p.m., 6-10 p.m. is what it was,” said Ball. “We are now 2 o’clock in the afternoon until 11 o’clock at night Monday through Thursday, and Fridays from 10:30 in the morning until 8 p.m. at night we’re booked. Then Saturdays and Sundays from 8 in the morning until 10 at night we’re booked. To ask volunteers to do that is just too much.”
Ball began being paid for doing it part-time, but he took the executive director position when even that wasn’t enough.
“It just made sense to make the switch,” he said of taking the full-time job on Oct. 1. “And to be honest with you, I could probably do with another full-time person. That’s how busy we are.”
He said the board recently learned just how busy.
“We’re up 125 percent from where we were last year at this point, in rentals, in advertising dollars, in the amount of teams that are in our leagues,” Ball said. “Across the board, we’ve basically doubled our growth.”
A big part of that growth is due to Fields4Kids opening up to activities besides soccer, including baseball and softball hitting practice, lacrosse and even activity-based birthday parties or a parent wanting a place to play catch with their child.
They’re even hosting a table tennis tournament on Friday.
“We had an anonymous donor donate four really high-end ping pong tables,” said Ball. “I didn’t even know there was a ping-pong club in the area. It’s just $10 a person. They come in and they play. We have four tables going, they have a blast and play all night long and go crazy.”
It all fits in with Ball’s original premise for Fields4Kids.
“The whole purpose for opening the facility was to promote a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Ball. “It doesn’t matter what sport, if it even is a sport, just play. It’s worked out quite well.”
Fields4Kids is just about maxed out now on late-afternoon and evening bookings, so they’re planning more daytime slots for use by senior centers and organizations and after-school programs looking for a place to conduct physical activities.
“I was pretty confident that we would be able to cover our costs, but I didn’t expect that we would be this popular this soon,” he said of Fields4Kids, which is run as a nonprofit entity. “We’re actually in the phase now of looking to grow more and actually expand and build a bigger facility with a bigger turf field, a multi-purpose basketball, volleyball, roller derby kind of court,” Ball added. “We’ve had two open meetings with the public where they could say, ‘This is what I want.’ ‘Can you build this? We will rent from you.’ We’re in that process right know of figuring out what the community wants, what they need.”
The plan is for the new facility to be between 45,000 and 60,000 square feet, almost five times its current size.
He also helps other soccer coaches, conducts licensing courses and youth coaching modules and certifies and recertifies soccer officials.
While Ball might say he needs more time in a day, he still finds time to coach, which is what brought him to the University of Maine as an assistant coach for men’s soccer in 2004 and 2005.
He eventually started the Blackbear United youth soccer club with UMaine head coach Travers Evans and kept that up until Blackbear merged with Seacoast United of southern Maine on July 1, 2012. He was Director of Coaching for Seacoast Blackbear until taking the Fields4Kids post full-time.
“The majority of my time was spent with Seacoast Blackbear and a little bit of time with Fields4Kids. With the growth [of Fields4Kids], it didn’t make sense,” Ball said.
He still coaches for Seacoast Blackbear, an Under-14 boys team and a U16 girls team that will be competing in the State Cup starting next month. The girls were U15 State Cup champs last year. He is coaching the U16 girls team in a tournament in Lancaster, Mass., this weekend.
“It’s their second tourney of the year,” he said. “They were undefeated in that one, and we hope to do the same this one.”
He also coaches the Hermon Middle School girls team and the Hampden Travel Broncos’ U14 boys team.
“I’m always coaching. I’m always busy,” he said. “Plus, with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, I’m very active and out in the community.
“There was no time for me to ever stop thinking about coaching or not coaching.”
That may be the only thing he had no time for.