On a cold early morning Saturday, with the temperature near zero, there was already a crowd gathering at the Community Fieldhouse at Fonner Park.
Along with a father shooting hoops with his kids, indoor high school soccer teams from Grand Island and a half dozen other communities were beginning an all-day indoor soccer tournament.
This is the 10th year the Community Fieldhouse has been offering people of Grand Island a multipurpose center for fall, winter and spring sports. The facility was built as part of a complex of buildings when the Nebraska State Fair moved from Lincoln to Fonner Park in 2010. During the fair, the building is home to the exhibits of the state 4-H’ers and FFA students, along with several dozen commercial exhibits.
Starting in October and running through April, the building becomes the Community Fieldhouse, which is operated by the city of Grand Island’s Parks and Recreation Department. Within this 70,000-square-foot facility, there are indoor batting cages, turf sports fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, archery, meeting rooms and a children’s playground.
According to Todd McCoy, Grand Island’s parks and recreation director, there’s a wide range of activities offered, from youth and adult sports to birthday parties.
Over the last nine years, the fieldhouse has enhanced the quality of life in Grand Island and the surrounding area by offering the space as a multipurpose recreational facility.
The fieldhouse is an excellent facility for indoor soccer. McCoy said along with the high school soccer teams and clubs, there is also a youth soccer league (ages 3 to 10), along with an adult soccer league.
He said the fieldhouse has been a home for indoor soccer since it became available as a multipurpose recreational venue in 2011.
“We have been busy ever since we have opened the facility,” McCoy said.
While the building was not designed to be a recreational fieldhouse, he and his crew have turned the facility into a popular venue for physical fitness for all ages.
During the day, fieldhouse is lightly used, but after school and work, activity begins to pick up as people head there to play, socialize and have a good time.
“On the weekend, it is always pretty busy,” McCoy said.
Grand Island has been a winter haven for youth sports this weekend. Along with the soccer tournament, there were hundreds of kids participating in the 28th annual Hoops Mania, which is one of Nebraska’s largest and longest-running youth basketball tournaments for girls and boys in grades 3-8.
In recent years, the fieldhouse has helped launch the growing popularity of pickleball by providing an indoor space for the sport. Next month, the inaugural Heartland Groundhog Slam Pickleball Tournament is slated for Feb. 1-2 at the Heartland Events Center. The event will draw hundreds of pickleball players from throughout the United States.
“Pickleball is one of those activities that are becoming more and more popular,” McCoy said. “The community is really embracing it in Grand Island.”
Before the availability of the building that was constructed for the Nebraska Fair, he said, the community lacked a facility that could host so many different types of activities.
“It really filled a big need,” McCoy said. “It is like a really big indoor park. Anything you can do in a park, you can do in the fieldhouse.”
The Community Fieldhouse also attracts many people from neighboring towns. For example, McCoy said the volleyball league competition that the fieldhouse hosts has tremendous support. Those tournaments draw people from Grand Island and neighboring communities.
The fieldhouse doesn’t host every conceivable sport one can participate in an outdoor area, such as golf.
But McCoy said the possibilities are endless when it comes to hosting a variety of recreational opportunities. He said the facility has not yet reached its full potential in its 10th year.
Jeff Hubl has worked at the fieldhouse part time since 2011. During the years, he has seen the growth of the facility and how it has become a vital part of the community for people of all ages.
“This has been a great facility for the community because during the winter months you have families who come here to play volleyball or basketball, they can use the softball and baseball cages,” Hubl said. “We didn’t have that before. Trying to get a school gym was tough. So, this is a good opportunity for families to get out and do something during the winter months.”
The fieldhouse is one of many recreation use areas operated by the Grand Island Parks and Recreation Department. Along with Grand Island’s many parks and athletic fields, the city also has Island Oasis Water Park, Heartland Public Shooting Park, and Jackrabbit Run Golf Course.
Watching the high school kids play indoor soccer Saturday morning was Jeremy Jensen. As former Grand Island mayor and now a Nebraska State Fair board member, he said the fieldhouse has become part of the fabric of Grand Island and has grown in popularity so much that another indoor multipurpose facility is not out of the question down the road.
Jensen is also the coach of the Grand Island Senior High outdoor soccer team that plays in the spring. He was there watching his player, and others play soccer as he begins preparation for the upcoming outdoor soccer season.
“This fieldhouse has been a massive addition to our community,” he said. “You come out here at any time of the year, and it is full. The reality is, as nice as this facility is, we could use something five times this size, and the entire facility would be full all the time as well.”
Jensen said watching the indoor high school soccer teams play allows him to see not only the talent that is at the high school, but also players from the other schools around the area.
“You kind of take it for granted now that the facility is here, but before 2011, it is hard to imagine what the community was doing to fulfill these needs,” he said. “From a soccer perspective, a lot of these kids would go out of town, such as Omaha, to play during the winter. It is really nice to have something here in our community for these boys as well.”
Jensen said it is amazing to see how much the facility is used by people of all ages.
“I was out here last week, and there was a baseball team fielding grounders. It is obviously very much a multi-use facility,” he said. “It is something we are fortunate to have. Now that we are celebrating 10 years, I am really hopeful we can duplicate something similar to this and even enlarge it.
To learn more about the Community Fieldhouse, visit www.giparks.com.