Keeping Acadia Fire FC, an independent, non-profit travel soccer club going during the pandemic has not been easy. Acadia Fire has rolled with the challenges, creating a field on private property for summer social-distanced training and then for a modified fall travel game season. Emily Ellis, executive director of AFFC, and the board of directors knew that the winter indoor season would come with more challenges. In December of 2020, AFFC moved out of its rented indoor training facility, that club families had deemed “the Firehouse,” due to the building not being properly ventilated and limited in spacing for socially distanced programming. This action was coupled with AFFC successfully completing a matching donor fundraising drive, surpassing the $10,000 match goal. As well, AFFC was holding conversations with the owner of the Acadia Events Center and other potential community partners about the possible rental or purchase of this larger, ventilated building with auditorium space.
However, by the projected start time of Jan. 4, with a commitment to making the Premier Program happen, which would provide training to the committed year-round soccer players, AFFC found itself without a physical place to train. With COVID numbers at their highest points for Maine, it was an indicator that another solution had to be found to keep the players maintaining and possibly improving their skills safely. AFFC coaches rolled out virtual skills training, using Zoom to hold live in-person workouts, conducted by coaches with players following in their home living rooms, bedrooms, or garages. These workouts are recorded so if players miss it they can still get in their workout.
AFFC also pulled in their SoccerFit! Athletic Trainer Instructor and Trenton Elementary’s PE and AD Alex Johnson to offer core-building and fitness workouts that can be done at home. The 5-Day Alex Johnson workout plan, involving such exercises as bird dogs, lemon squeezes, chair dips and glute bridges, has videos that show how to do each exercise and is now offered to all the Premier players. Parents report that they think that it is doing wonders, despite being stuck inside. One player FaceTime’s with another player while doing the workout, getting their social time in as well as the physical workout.
Acadia Fire is also offering an opportunity for in-person soccer, in partnership with The Pitch in Warren, a 200- by 300-foot state of the art indoor turf facility serving Maine’s Midcoast region. The Pitch is owned by Robbie and Tammy Krul and is the home of fellow Premier soccer club, Dutch Soccer Academy. AFFC players and coaches from 10 and Under to 18 and Under have been making the trek to The Pitch on Saturdays for a weekly, 2-hour training session to prepare for the expected spring game season. Robbie is a US Soccer C-licensed coach trained to offer parts of the D-licensing course to other coaches. Ellis saw this as an opportunity to incorporate further training for her coaches by hiring Robbie to work with AFFC coaches during these Saturday trainings. “We are trying to keep moving the players and coaches forward as much as possible during these trying times,” Ellis remarks.
Ellis knows that this is all temporary and along with relief from the coronavirus in the future, Acadia Fire also has to find a more permanent solution for where the players will continue to train in the future. “Now, more than ever, it has become very apparent that for the club to continue to thrive, Acadia Fire needs an indoor turf facility and outdoor fields. Back 10 years or so ago when the club was just getting started, school gymnasiums were available. Without school gymnasiums or playing fields available due to COVID, getting teams together to practice in-person will continue to be hard to facilitate,” Ellis reports.
Looking at future options, AFFC is seeking a place to rent, buy, or build new. Ellis would like to think bigger by providing not just an indoor turf facility for Acadia Fire’s use, but building a resource for the community: batting cages for softball and baseball players, an indoor golf driving range, adult soccer and ultimate frisbee leagues, birthday parties using inflatables. In addition, she is thinking about how to have a low-impact on the environment by potentially adding solar panels to the roof. A possible outdoor turf field could serve not only the needs of Acadia Fire, but also the needs of local schools and other sports programs that want to extend their outdoor spring and fall seasons.
Acadia Fire is looking for the help of other businesses, individual donors, or community-minded organizations, to partner with, to create these facilities for the community. “The closest indoor turf facilities are an hour inland in Brewer or two hours south in Warren. As well, the closest outdoor turf facilities are at least an hour away for most Acadia Fire players, making it difficult to train on weeknights,” says Ellis. They all have their own programs in operation and are limiting their use by outside entities due to COVID, according to Ellis.
Acadia Fire is no stranger to adversity and will continue to accept the challenges thrown at the club to get through this pandemic. Ellis expresses, “Seeing the joy in the kids as they grow as skilled players and as confident individuals, is a sight worth fighting for.”