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New Fields Fill the Bill for Soccer Players

February 06, 1992|AMY LOUISE KAZMIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRIFFITH PARK — The longstanding pleas of frustrated soccer enthusiasts have been answered with the dedication of a seven-field soccer and rugby complex at Griffith Park--the first such playing fields to be built in the central city in more than nine years.

The $825,000 complex, named after City Council President John Ferraro--is on 26 acres of previously undeveloped land between the Golden State Freeway and the Los Angeles River, near the zoo parking lot.

Representatives of the World Cup and the American Youth Soccer Organization joined Ferraro and city officials Saturday at a dedication ceremony for the facility, which was four years in planning and development.

City parks officials said that the fields have long been needed.

Despite soccer's popularity in Los Angeles, there are few fields for enthusiasts near downtown. Impromptu games on park lawns have been discouraged by city officials because the cleats on soccer shoes tear up the grass.

"There is a shortage of soccer fields," said Jack Baptista, soccer coordinator for the municipal sports division of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department.

"They built more tennis courts than they built soccer fields because they (city officials) had the image that only Latinos played soccer."

Baptista said that the fields will be used by the American Youth Soccer Organization and adult soccer leagues on weekends. He also said the city hopes to offer its own soccer program.

At Griffith Park, weekend soccer enthusiasts often played in picnic areas, disturbing picnickers with stray balls, said Tom LaBonge, field deputy for Councilman Ferraro, who represents the area.

The new complex, which includes a 100-car parking lot, was built with money from the city's park improvement fund, LaBonge said.

Officials eventually plan to expand the parking lot, and to add outdoor lighting, bleachers, office and concession facilities, as well as a field house with showers and locker rooms.

Baptista said he hopes that this will mark the beginning of a wave of construction of soccer fields in parks in east and downtown Los Angeles.

"Hopefully we will have more new fields in the future," he said. "The demand is very heavy."

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