The ball is soaring in the air, spinning toward the net and the question is, will Bakersfield score or come up with a big fat zero?
We’re talking about the Kern County Soccer Park. The green treasure on Alfred Harrell Highway between Hart Park and CALM. On 21 fields, spread across 120 acres, your kids or your grandkids may have played there and if they didn’t, millions have over the last 40 years.
John Trino, an Arvin produce broker/soccer enthusiast/slack key guitar player, with help from people like Bill Baker, Dan Imes, Richard Peoples, Trice Harvey, Gene Tackett, Mary K. Shell and John Gotjen, founded the park. However, Trino is 77, in remission from a nasty fight with esophageal cancer, and is retiring from his role as "Godfather," father and general cheerleader for the Kern County soccer as of next May.
Trino is dissolving the nonprofit foundation that has run the park, handing it back to the county (Trino has a series of 25-year leases with the county) and riding off to a glorious Arvin sunset.
“It’s been great but it’s time for me to retire,” Trino said.
Trino said a lot more than that, but sometimes you have to make a decision otherwise you have a book.
People might ask: Why should I care? What does this mean for me? Why are you bothering me about a soccer park that’s snugged up to the river and surrounded by puckerbrush awash with rabbits, horned toads, lizards and coyotes?
This is why: The soccer park is a community asset. Along with the bike bath, McMurtrey Aquatic Center, the park on the Panorama Bluffs, cheap housing, good parking, Dewar’s, Luigi’s, Uricchio’s, Jake’s and Imbibe, the soccer park makes this place half-livable.
This green space, play space, fun space, sit-down-in-your-folding-chair-on-a-Saturday space, has not only hosted regional, state and national tournaments, but also brought in a steady flow of cash to the community from visitors and residents alike.
Trino’s leaving, the foundation that has been running the park is disappearing and in order for the water to remain on, the fields, mowed, striped and tended, somebody has to step up. Somebody, some company, some governmental entity has to pick up the whistle and put on a striped shirt or the park will return to whence Trino found it — tumbleweeds, dirt clods and rabbit holes. Good for the ants and black beetles but maybe not so good for the kids and adults wearing cleats.
Trino has given notice that he’s leaving and the county, led by real property agent Katie Watkins, has put the park out for bid (it’s called an RFP, or a request for proposal) as of last Thursday.
“We’re looking for a concessionaire to take over the park and have them in place by May, when John leaves,” Watkins said.
The search is local, statewide, national or can come from outer space if the people are qualified, have a plan and a reserve fund. (Although the park brings in more than $800,000 a year, stuff breaks, old pipes rupture in the middle of the night and light bulbs explode.)
The search for new leadership will be tweeted, emailed, posted on Instagram, written about, televised and shouted from street corners by men wearing funny hats: “Soccer park available. Home to dreams, past, present and future!”
I’m naive, but wouldn’t it be nice if somebody in the community stepped up? A prosperous company, a wealthy family or 1,000 first-graders who have been saving their pennies and love nothing more than run barefoot on cool grass. However, if not, then somebody with strength, vision and staying power.
If Watkins and the county are unable to find a qualified “vendor” then the county and probably the Board of Supervisors has a decision to make: take it over themselves and run it or choose the dust-to-dust approach.
Twenty-one fields, acres of grass, four major concession stands with men’s and women’s bathrooms, a 60-foot trailer that operates as a staff office and tournament headquarters, an information and tournament center, an employee rest area, a beautiful new gate, two lanes in and out and 700 mature trees.
We shall see. The ball is in the air. How great would it be if the announcer were soon shouting “Gooooooo-al.”