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Newly Merged Youth Soccer Club Launches $2.25 Million Fundraising Campaign

Large group of soccer players and families crowd an area near a food truck at Community Fields along Ireland Grove Road in Bloomington.
Sonya Hefter
Illinois Fire Juniors
A tournament hosted at Bloomington's Community Fields along Ireland Grove Road last weekend attracted 160 teams to the community. Youth soccer enthusiasts say upgraded fields in a new location could attract more regional and national tournaments.

A newly merged youth soccer organization in Bloomington, the Illinois Fire Juniors, is announcing a $2.25 million fundraising campaign for new, upgraded soccer fields that will be needed when a three-year lease runs out for Community Fields along Ireland Grove Road.

Illinois Fire Juniors Board Member Jeremy Kelley said lead gifts from Advocate BroMenn, McLean County Orthopedics, and TPC Training amount to a combined $75,000 over the next three years for tournament sponsorship. That is considered money toward the capital campaign that will go to build larger fields on a yet-to-be-determined site.

"(We want) amenities such as bathrooms, electricity which we don't have at Community Fields now, maybe running water, maybe some better parking," he said.

According to Kelley, the best-case scenario would be a location that offers at least 100 acres. 

Vehicles lined up at Community Fields soccer complex along Ireland Grove Road in south Bloomington.
Credit Sonya Hefter / Illinois Fire Juniors
Illinois Fire Juniors
Illinois Fire Juniors Board Member Jeremy Kelley says a soccer tournament this past weekend required spaces for 6,000 vehicles. He said 2,000 of those were parked across the street and required people to walk across a busy Ireland Grove Road.

Other youth organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal and the Bloomington-Normal YMCA and Easterseals have also launched capital campaigns. Kelley said he's not too concerned because he thinks the soccer complex offers something the other groups do not—economic impact through sports tourism.

"You look at Rockford. They have a tremendous facility up there. They had a tournament that got canceled last month because of weather and they estimated it was going to be a $1.89 million economic loss just from that one tournament," said Kelley.

Last weekend, Bloomington hosted a tournament at Community Fields with 160 soccer teams of at least 10 players each plus families. He says with a minimum per-visitor spending of $150, that translates to a lot of money spent locally.

Other Partners?

The Town of Normal hired a Florida company, Sports Facilities Advisory, to study the feasibility of developing a local, multisport complex. The company is conducting research and market analysis, including the identification of potential sites; a financial forecast for a five-year period; and future economic impact. Results should be reported next month, according to a timeline given when the council approved the $47,000 agreement. (The Bloomington City Council voted in April to kick in $17,625 toward the study.)

A concrete path winding between two soccer fields with sponsorship signs on either side at Rockford's Mercyhealth Sportscore One multi-sport complex.
Credit Jeremy Kelley / Illinois Fire Juniors
Illinois Fire Juniors
A path that separates one of 18 soccer fields that are part of Rockford's Mercyhealth Sportscore One complex located on 147 acres in northwest Rockford. It also features eight lighted softball/baseball diamonds, boat ramp, fishing pond, two playgrounds, recreation path, concessions, and indoor soccer center building.

Developers Dave Stark and Katie Kim have been meeting with stakeholders and have a site for a proposed complex on more than 200 acres north of the Crossroads Center between White Oak and Wiley Drive. Plans have not been formally proposed to either council in Bloomington-Normal.

Kelley says for now, Illinois Fire Juniors is launching its capital campaign solo but it welcomes discussion with any interested organization or public entities such as schools that need additional playing or practice fields.

"Ultimately if nothing happens, we're going to have to control our own destiny, raise money and come up with something ourselves. There are different options and different paths," Kelley said. "What we know is that on any of those different paths, we're going to need the money to step up and either build it ourselves or be that first, primary tenant for whatever group is running the facility."

You can also listen to GLT's full interview:

GLT's full interview with Kelley.

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Colleen Reynolds was a correspondent at WGLT. She left the station in 2023.