From avocation to vocation

Business: SoccerDome in Jessup succeeds in its first year with a few innovations.

Howard At Play

November 30, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Clif Everett, part-time soccer player, knew he saw a void in Howard County's soccer-loving marketplace because he could no longer find a place to play indoors.

So in the middle of last year, the Jessup resident took one of those life-altering gambles, turning avocation into vocation by starting a new business, his first. He called it SoccerDome, a marketable name, although not descriptive of the building itself.

From its exterior, the county's only permanent indoor soccer facility, also in Jessup, on Montevideo Road off U.S. 1, resembles many of the metal-sided trucking warehouses in the area.

But indoors, Everett and colleagues created magic that has drawn, seven days a week, enough people to easily number in the thousands, although Everett hasn't calculated an exact figure. You can play soccer from morning to deep into the night, if you sign up; games in a popular one-night-a-week "restaurant league" start at midnight to accommodate workers just getting off work.

The pull is three soccer fields, two side-by-side, separated by bleachers and pedestrian areas. The third field is half the size of the others and is squeezed into one end of the floor space.

Synthetic grass - not quite natural looking, but close - carpets all three fields. If you look closely, millions of tiny rubber pellets hold up the bladed "grass," providing footing that players say is nearly as true as the real stuff. It's also much easier on the body than that hard, non-bladed, skin-burning, early-generation plastic turf that most athletes dislike.

SoccerDome turns one year old tomorrow. So we asked Everett about his first year in business.

Looking back, how has your first year gone?

It's been a lot more work than I expected, a huge challenge. But I feel more confident that we've been accepted by the soccer community and that I'm not going to be out on the street. They've responded to us, and we've tried to respond to their needs, too.

The number of parties we're hosting is increasing, for example, and it's by word-of-mouth. Our drop-in play [when players can show up and for a small fee join a pick-up game] is doing nicely. The weekend drop-ins have been filled from the beginning, 100 to 150 players usually. We use a clock that means new players come onto the field every eight minutes. We're using the two large fields for the women in the morning, one day a week. The after-school drop-in for middle- and high school-age players, now that the fall season outdoors is over, is increasing.

In many places in Latin America, you can find a pickup game in the park almost anytime. That's what we're trying to do here, provide that chance. That kind of play - it's where you really improve. We don't make a lot of money off it, but it helps build for the future. A lot of the players will eventually join teams.

You were conflicted a year ago about putting hockey dasher boards around both of the large fields - what's accepted as "American indoor soccer" - but you did it around only one. Your open-sided field, requiring the same ball skills that apply outdoors, is a first indoors in this part of Maryland. Which do people prefer?

Oh, not even close. I'd guess that 80 percent of our players prefer the open-sided field. We have some teams that won't play on the field with the boards, and a lot of teams signing up for this winter asked specifically to play on it.

There are still diehards, though, who like to get knocked against the boards, who like that style of play. And I really think we'd lose some teams to other arenas if we took the boards down now.

How about summertime? Indoor play normally drops off in warm weather, right?

We did better than expected. There was very little fall-off in our adult leagues, which was a pleasant surprise; they liked not playing in the sun, and, of course, it was so wet, we kept on playing.

We had a number of camps, some our own, some rented out to others, including a Brazilian camp.

Where's your clientele from? All Howard County? Elsewhere?

All over. Howard County provides most of it, sure, but we have teams from the Baltimore area, Anne Arundel County, the D.C. area. What attracts them most is the level of competition here, which is quite good.

Among adults, maybe 40 percent - again, a guess - is Latino, a bit of a surprise. They're on a lot of teams, but we have a Latino league, too.

Lacrosse hasn't done much, and we're not sure why, but we'd welcome them. We had some American football teams use our fields, and a baseball coach has signed up for space this winter to run clinics, as well.

Year No. 2 - what's on the horizon?

It's very positive. We'll have more teams than we did last winter. And we'll have a futsal league [the five-a-side indoor game that began in Brazil and has become the official world-level game] this winter. The small field is perfect for it, so we've put in official futsal-size goals, and there's been a lot of interest.

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