What happens when a local soccer team eager to engage with its local community partners with a city that’s also hoping to provide its residents with a youth soccer program? A perfect opportunity.
As of Tuesday, the city of Wilmington’s Parks and Recreation Department has reached an agreement with local soccer club Bearfight FC of the USLPA to begin a youth soccer program while also allowing the club to utilize Eden Park as their home field.
In October of 2018, the City of Wilmington decided to unveil plans to completely overhaul Eden Park by proposing a $2.4 million dollar renovation project that included a brand new full-size football/soccer field made of synthetic turf, a new scoreboard, resurfaced basketball courts, and updated playground equipment.
In September of this year, that plan was officially complete. Eden Park has been restored and the city’s Parks and Recreation program has been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to revitalize some youth sports programs thanks to the renovations.
In steps local soccer club Bearfight FC and President Jeremy Sharpe and his long scraggly beard.
“When we first got together and started planning this out in 2013, the first priority was to get the senior club running and to get them started,” said Sharpe during a series of phone calls with PhillySportsNetwork.com. “But there was always a discussion from day one to have a youth program that was affordable and accessible. There’s plenty of youth soccer in Wilmington… but they’re not affordable to everybody.”
Bearfight is an amateur soccer club that began in August of 2013. They’re based in the city of Wilmington and are solely for supporters and run by supporters. The club’s roots are strongly tied with the ‘Bearfight Brigade’ a Philadelphia Union supporter’s group that branched off from the Sons of Ben. To make them an even more interesting club, their main sponsor is Langtec Ltd. a composite tube company based in East Lancashire, England.
Langtec and Bearfight’s partnership is perhaps at first a bit confusing but ultimately is one founded around a central idea: giving back to the community. Langtec’s largest market is the US and Wilmington just happens to be one of many cities they conduct business in and they have a storied history of sponsoring small sports clubs back in England.
To help with general funding for team operations, Langtec Ltd managing director Andrew Turner explained the company wanted to give back to the city of Wilmington. “We’ve been the main sponsor for Bearfight FC for three years now. We like to give back whenever we can to communities that have been kind to us,” said Turner. “I did a quick google search and I kept coming across the same name: Bearfight. I came across it time and time again, so I finally followed that route and I went onto their website and I like what I had seen. It wasn’t just all about soccer for them, it was about community involvement. And we like that.”
“I contacted them and asked if they had any sponsorship and they said no. I said would you like some, and they said yes. Any little bit helps. Running an amateur team in any sport is not a cheap thing to do. So they were happy to have a little bit of support,” said Turner.
With a local corporate sponsorship and a focused plan which would hopefully jump-start the sport of soccer within the community, Sharpe capitalized on the opportunity to help aid the city’s parks and recreation programming.
In all, there’s boundless talent throughout the state of Delaware when it comes to soccer. But in general, the suburban areas receive the most attention and subsequently more opportunities to grow the game. But what Sharpe and Bearfight FC envision is a future where organized soccer at not only adult but youth levels is affordable and accessible within the actual city itself.
Earlier in November, Sharpe was called to meet with city Parks and Rec staff. On that day, Sharpe went in clear-minded and ended up owning the room. “I stayed on point and stayed on message. One person I met said ‘You know what’s really interesting is that I had no idea you were coming in today and I was sitting around thinking about ideas for the Parks and Rec program and thought hey why don’t we have soccer, it would be cool if we did,” said Sharpe. “His eyes lit up when he learned we can provide that program and have it run by people with experience in and around the game.”
Fast forward a few weeks to this past Tuesday and Sharpe was invited yet again to speak with the city’s Parks and Rec staff. It was unexpected. Sharpe received little to no notification that a follow-up was required. None-the-less, Sharpe remained determined to get the goal accomplished.
In other words, Sharpe and his beard – which he claims will be trimmed in the near future – dominated yet another room.
“With very little small talk, they asked me what I wanted to do with the Parks and Rec and soccer,” said Sharpe. “I laid down the idea of this being a parks and rec program and that my players from Bearfight FC would run the on-field program. I would consult with other coaches I trust to develop a program. It will be introduction, basic skill development, and ‘in house’ games focusing on fun and creativity.”
Along with the youth soccer program, general soccer education programs were discussed with the end goal of having soccer officiating programs involved as well. By the end of the meeting, Sharpe finally received the answer he was looking for. Bearfight FC can finally commit resources to a youth program while playing soccer in their home city.
The exact details of the program are to be determined but for now, the program will be designed with a focus on players 12 years and younger, both boys and girls. “We have long term vision of youth and adult beginner programs, open playtime for youth, and starting a competitive soccer club in the near future that will include co-ed teams, boys teams, and girls teams,” said Sharpe.
Both Sharpe and Turner were thrilled to hear the news on Tuesday. Sharpe took to twitter to blast the news out to the club’s supporters. After all, Sharpe and Bearfight FC have worked tirelessly to try and get this program off the ground for some time now. “It’s a family effort,” said Sharpe.
“We really wanted to form a relationship between Wilmington and East Lancashire,” said Turner of the news. “I thought that was excellent news. It’s something that they’ve worked very hard to achieve.”
For Sharpe, he can now breathe a bit easier. It’s been weeks of stopping and starting conversations with city employees. Weeks of sitting on pins and needles, hovering in a gray area unsure if this plan has the legs to come to fruition. But now it’s firmly in place.
“End of the day, I’m not the first person, nor is Bearfight FC the first club to reach out the Wilmington Parks and Recreation about city soccer programs,” said Sharpe. “But we are the group that they decided is a correct fit for the city parks and rec department.”
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Mandatory Credit: Bearfight FC