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New field is a blessing in North Portland

Operation Pitch Invasion leads way for youth facility


by: COURTESY OF TYE ORTEGA - Youngsters get in on the action at the new Bless Field in North Portland.Before the ribbon was cut for Bless Field on Saturday, before a soccer ball was

ever dribbled, before a goal was ever scored, there was a promise.

“When the Timbers Army was active in trying to get MLS to Portland, we promised ourselves that we would make good on our request to have more things from Portland,” says Operation Pitch Invasion board member Shawn Levy. “The first thing we hit on was to improve the soccer fields and the parks and the schools. Operation Pitch Invasion was the result of that desire. To put our money and our muscle where our mouths were.”

Thus, Operation Pitch Invasion was born.

“Every year, we have three to five events where we get 50 to 70 people out from the Timbers Army on a Saturday morning and we repair a local field,” Levy says. “That’s very low cost for us. We can do an entire park complex of soccer fields in a morning. We’re going to do that as long as we exist.”

Creating Bless Field took a lot more than one Saturday. OPI identified a vacant lot in the New Columbia area of North Portland. The community is populated with children from 22 countries who speak 11 different languages at home. The lot where the field was created is bordered by the Regence Boys & Girls Club, Rosa Parks Elementary School and the Home Forward administrative offices.

“We picked the most diverse census place in the state, a resource-strapped community where the kids don’t have the same recreational opportunities as they do in other places,” Levy says. “The location is perfect, because on three of the four sides there is the Boys & Girls Club, Rosa Parks Elementary and the Home Forward Administrative offices. It’s an eyes-on location. It’s not a place for mischief or hanging out.”

Bless Field is 9,000 square feet. It is designed specifically for children age 10 and younger. It is an all-weather turf field, with the surface provided by FieldTurf, the company that serves Providence Park.

“Because of that relationship (with FieldTurf), we got a great deal,” Levy says. “Their local rep cut us a great price and took nearly 10 percent off our entire budget. It’s not the high performance stuff they put in the professional stadium. It will need to be replaced somewhere down the line. Our agreement with Home Forward calls for us to help with maintenance and to help with replacement when that time comes. The nice thing is the replacement cost is nowhere near the construction cost and we’re talking like six to 10 years down the line.”

The field cost about $200,000 and was funded by the Portland Development Commission, the Portland Timbers, Providence Health and Services, Adidas, Widmer Bros., LifeWise Health Plans of Oregon, Oregon Premiere Leagues and several other Portland-area organizations and individuals.

The biggest donor to the project was the 107 Independent Supporters Trust.

The Timbers Army and the 107 Independent Supporters Trust are separate, but interconnected.

“The Timbers Army is something like Woodstock Nation, or Generation X,” Levy says. “It’s something you belong to or you don’t. 107IST is a paid membership organization like a fraternity or the Elks Club. It has more than 4,000 members.”

Now that Bless Field is open for play, the work will not stop for Operation Pitch Invasion. In fact, Levy has dreams for the group that could fill an MLS stadium to capacity.

“We hope to have a program of ongoing signature projects every other year,” Levy says. “We see this game as the world’s language. Particularly from newcomer families, soccer is the lingua franca. They know that if their kids are playing on a soccer team, they’re not in trouble.

“If you start kicking a ball around on Bless Field, you could be a Thorn or a Timber. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d have an OPI in every MLS city, partnered with the MLS clubs. People wonder when the United States is going to be as good at soccer as other nations. It’s when you have the facilities. We’re trying to make that possible.”