In Dare County, demand grows for more and better athletic facilities

By on December 2, 2022

The Nags Head Soccer Complex fields, located on West Satterfield Landing Road, have frequently been closed, according to area soccer coaches and parents. (Corinne Saunders)

Many area coaches, players, parents and other sports enthusiasts agree. The county’s growing population, coupled with an increasing interest in sports, especially soccer, has led to a demand for more and better athletic facilities and playing fields.

“The need is now,” said Jamie Varnell, a local parent who has been advocating for those facilities. “I feel like it’s a problem for everyone on the beach—all youth sports. We know it is. It’s clear. It’s the bottleneck that is only going to get worse.”

 “I think in one sense, it’s a good problem to have, that we have so many people wanting to play and train throughout year—not just youth, but adults,” said Ralph Cleaver, head soccer coach for Manteo High School (MHS).

The OBX Storm Soccer Club has fall and spring seasons. According to Jeff Scott, president of OBX Storm’s board of directors, the biggest problems are the quality of the fields as well as lengthy field closures.

“We’re kind of limited because the fields get closed,” Scott said. “Fields elsewhere don’t close. They may close briefly, but they don’t close for months at a time, which is what we deal with here.” He added that the fields that Storm teams play on when they travel elsewhere “are typically better fields than we have.”

Tim White, Dare County’s public services director, did not respond to the Voice’s requests for comment about the field closures.

Tennis courts and the high school track and football fields are open year-round for both tourists and locals to enjoy, but “soccer fields are locked half the year,” said Amy Powell, whose son Trent is a former First Flight High School (FFHS) and collegiate soccer player.

“We do so much for the tourists, but what about our youth?” she asserted. “Kids are jumping fences to practice or play pickup games…and getting threatened with arrest. This has to stop.”

Juan Ramirez, FFHS’ head soccer coach, said he thinks more fields are needed around the county. He declined to speak on specifics of the high school soccer field closures but noted: “We got so many teams and so many players wanting to use it, that it’s tough.”

For her part, Amy Powell suggested fields being closed and opened on an alternating basis “until a much-needed turf field is established.”

Others have been pressing for such fields. Varnell and Molly Garavito, another local mom, spoke during public comment at the May Dare County Commissioners meeting about the need for converting the Nags Head Soccer Complex fields off West Satterfield Landing Road to artificial turf so they’d be usable year-round. They also sent board members a detailed presentation on the subject.

Garavito said she has been coaching both Parks and Recreation and Outer Banks Youth Soccer Association (OBYSA) teams for years. Her three boys all play soccer and lacrosse. “It’s great there’s that much interest,” she said. But the county recreational facilities that were established over 20 years ago for the population then, are “not adequate” for today’s population, she added.

“The initial rumblings, I’ll say, were when we were trying to coach and just trying to balance the amount of interest in using the fields,” Garavito said. “There are a lot of teams that couldn’t even get their one-hour practice a week on the field with what we already had established—and this was before they shut down Satterfield [Nags Head Soccer Complex] all last spring.”

 “I’m not a huge fan of artificial turf, but I think a couple of fields down here might be essential,” said John Van Lunen, president of OBX Lacrosse Club and coach for the men’s lacrosse team at FFHS.

He’d like to see the FFHS stadium, which is used for football and men’s and women’s lacrosse games, turfed so that it could also be used as another location for practices. And turfing the Nags Head fields would allow for a venue for lacrosse tournaments in the spring, soccer tournaments in the fall and camps in the summer, Van Lunen said.

“It would actually be nice to see some kind of destination created, because we’re tired of traveling out to other places to play other people; so there’s plenty of benefits,” he noted.

Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said in an email that the board and county manager are currently dealing with multiple Parks and Rec issues. He directed the Voice to the county manager for additional comment.

County Manager Bobby Outten said he and the county commissioners met with a turf company several times, but the installation cost at the Nags Head soccer complex would have been about $2 million. He added that along with replacement costs in the future, creating an “almost impervious base” would lead to stormwater and town ordinance considerations for allowable lot coverage. The board opted to instead pursue the addition of lights and three additional grass fields behind FFMS, which comes at less expense.

“We don’t have any plans to turf any of the fields as we speak,” Outten said. The lighting and additional fields project, plus upgrading baseball fields in Kitty Hawk, will happen soon, but he said he didn’t have an exact timeframe for those.

Further out, the facilities plan is to “upgrade everything,” Outten continued, adding that county’s priority for its facilities are county Parks and Recreation activities, but that it welcomes other athletic clubs and groups to also use them.

 Varnell and Garavito say they offered to fundraise and apply for grants to make up the difference in cost for turfing the Nags Head Soccer Complex, but say they never heard back from commissioners.

Cleaver said that he and the staff with the nonprofit Premier Soccer Training had made a proposal to the county to raise money to convert the old tennis courts at College of The Albemarle’s Manteo location into a futsal court for community use. Futsal is a growing, smaller-scale version of soccer played on either an indoor or outdoor court. He said the response they received was positive, but as it turned out, those courts were torn down.

Susan Gray, director of the Fessenden Center on Hatteras Island, said she believes people use the Parks and Rec field in Hatteras when it’s technically closed. “But you know, it looks fine. I haven’t had any big problems or anything out there.” The county recently ordered an architectural study of all its facilities “because we’re outgrowing our facilities,” Gray said.

She said, among other amenities, the Fessenden Center could use another gym, more pickleball courts and another field. The center’s property backs up to the sound and includes unusable marshy land, so the county would need to purchase a new tract of land for such facilities.

Once built though, Gray said additional outdoor facilities would be “totally manageable” because they don’t require staffing, yet “it’s available dawn-to-dusk for everybody. It’s ideal… The more outdoor facilities we have, they’ll be used. I feel 100% about that.”

Additional fields “would make our soccer practices easier,” she said. It would allow teams to practice earlier, eliminating the need for 6-7 p.m. practices, which would let kids get home earlier on school nights.

Gray expects the county to procure the land in upcoming years. “There’s no reason to think that they won’t. They know we’re busy down here. They want to help us out the best they can; I know that.”

SEE ALSO: How soccer became king in Dare County


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  • Hawk

    Convert the Event Site in NH to accomodate a couple of soccer fields. Why spend $ to promote tourism when we can support local needs – OBX promotes itself and doesn’t promoting

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 9:41 am
  • Pool person

    We need another indoor pool. There aren’t enough places for kids to take swim lessons and for an actual swim team to gain popularity the Y is just too small and can’t accommodate the amount of people that want to swim year-round.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 10:47 am
  • Scott

    it would be great if you could provide a list of New Years Eve Activities that are going on for the up coming 2023 years. Seems to be very hard to find on the internet.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 11:02 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Scott, we’ll work on that.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 12:33 pm
  • Travis

    As usual the decisions will be made based on cold blooded economic calculations, not needs, wants, wishes or desires.

    Rental homes > soccer fields. You know how many houses you can build on a soccer field?
    Convention center > youth sports complex. Money coming in vs. money to maintain.

    There are actually opportunities to make better use of the facilities we do have but Mr. White and the county BOC are too tightfisted to pony up for a few more positions at Parks and Rec that would allow them to expand their hours or offer more sports options for the locals – youth and adults alike.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 11:55 am
  • Glenn

    I applaud all efforts to bring more sports opportunities for our youth! If it’ll help them put down their phones & the endless watching of Tik-Tok videos, I’m all for it. Please don’t put in the back burner the importance of taking care of our local workforce by building affordable housing. If would be great if some of those same young people would someday return to our area to help train the next generation of school athletes. However, if any return to our area, they’ll need affordable housing as they kick off their coaching/teaching careers.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 12:59 pm
  • Sarah

    I’m so thankful for the coaches and volunteers who are constantly trying to come up with solutions to this issue in our community. We are consistently sending off collegiate level athletes and our commissioners continue to refuse to prioritize training facilities. With our county revenue there is absolutely no excuse to not invest in the youth in this community. What the BOC fail to recognize is that quality facilities would open the option to host more games/competitions/tournaments which would, in turn, bring in more revenue. It’s a shame the county is choosing, yet again, to show our students and young adults that they could care less about providing a future here for them.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 6:52 pm
  • Gayle

    You think the soccer fields need work? Take a look at the county’s softball facilities…pathetic.

    Friday, Dec 2 @ 9:51 pm
  • Steven

    A billion dollars in revenue tax gets us the people, Nothing.

    Saturday, Dec 3 @ 5:43 am
  • Justin

    Think about it…..dare county commissioners are being lobbied by “parents” for facilities for kids? Tell us where all the money has been going? Can’t wait to hear, “we don’t have the money for that”.

    Saturday, Dec 3 @ 6:12 am
  • Sandflea

    There is exactly one barely functional pool in Dare county that can hold a swim meet.

    Saturday, Dec 3 @ 7:58 am
  • Nosey OBXer

    I’ve been complaining about this for years. Traveled around the US a couple years ago and was so impressed with sports facilities, clubs for teens across the nation. Small towns with less tax revenues put Dare County to shame. Where is all the tax dollars going? Pensions, salaries, new automobiles?
    Not only do we need sports fields, facilities, swimming pool, we need a boys and girls club for the non-sport creative teens for music, writing , volunteering, dance and arts.

    Saturday, Dec 3 @ 9:46 am
  • Lisa

    The Event site in NH could be used for a variety of activities. We do not need the building they are proposing for conventions. We need something people can use year round. There are regular meetings and conventions here now at hotels using their meeting rooms, and it works. The plans to build the hotel across from the Event area certainly allowed us to believe there was only one option the county was looking at with this million dollar facility. The land for the Event site is great -great location, but we have never used it for anything except 2-3 festivals in a year. It needs to be thought through carefully before proceeding with the current plan. Could we do more for the local community-we can.

    Saturday, Dec 3 @ 10:41 am
  • Justin

    Nothing has been upgraded in this county bc the commissioners have been asleep at the wheel. When residents start demanding it, by voting in the right people, it will get done. If the event site happens, and nothing is done for the child of the community, EVERY COMMISSIONER WILL BE ANSWERING TO THAT next election. If you want to make a bet, ask the board of education members what happens when you neglect the children here. Facilities failing all around us and they’re concerned about tourist and an event site with very limited use. Millions of dollars spent on that. Now parents demanding facilities for the kids. Where is all the money? I’ve come to the conclusion that if the PARENTS don’t get it done, it will never get done.

    Sunday, Dec 4 @ 4:46 am
  • Michael

    I’m so glad this topic is coming up. The county leaders need to constantly be pressured on this. The revenue that this county brings in is ridiculous and the facilities for our youth is even more ridiculous. In manteo they have to schedule recreation basketball practice to half court sessions and this year only 2 practices a week when usually it’s 3 a week because the lack of space. Our baseball/softball fields have slopes in some of them, especially in wanchese, which of course is dangerous. Please don’t let up on this issue. It’s long overdue

    Sunday, Dec 4 @ 1:04 pm