Preston Park is now home to Roanoke’s newest Futsal court, an idea five years in the making. At that time, Elvir Berbic, one of the champions of this effort, coached a soccer team in Northeast Roanoke comprising mostly immigrants and refugees. They would play on the fields at Breckenridge Middle School, a walkable, accessible location for most of the players. However, in the off-season, the goals would be removed, disrupting the team’s play. They considered finding another location, but “Breckenridge Middle was a walkable distance to where [the players] lived. They didn’t have to cross major roads; they could just walk to the area if they wanted to play,” Berbic said. Without wanting to move, they considered how to make it work in their current location. That’s when a fellow coach had the idea to convert one of the unused tennis courts at Preston Park to a futsal court. Thus began Berbic’s journey.
He approached Roanoke Parks and Recreation to see the feasibility of changing the tennis court into a futsal court. He also approached Landon Moore of Star City Soccer. Moore has a non-profit, the Star City Soccer Foundation, that provides educational opportunities for immigrants and refugees in Roanoke. Moore was on board to help Berbic raise money for the cause.
Why a Futsal Court?
Futsal is similar to soccer except it’s played on a smaller, hard-surface court, and the ball is slightly heavier. This format allows for fewer people to play (as opposed to 22 players on a normal soccer field), and is more in line with what this population desires. “All you need is a ball and some friends!” Berbic said. Futsal is more conducive to pick-up games, helps with foot-skill development, and allows for more playing time. Plus, the court requires less maintenance than a regular soccer field; you don’t have to cut the grass or line the field. Additionally, Roanoke Parks and Recreation’s 10-Year Master Plan identified these courts as underutilized, so this project seemed like a no-brainer.
Berbic, a refugee himself, relocated from Bosnia to Northeast Roanoke and understands the importance of recreational access in this community. “I am big on having access that is free of charge… I had lived there a long time and knew that there was a need.” Berbic also mentioned the pay-to-play model that’s so popular in the United States. “There are lots of kids who want to play, but they can’t afford to. What better resource than having something safe and accessible in their environment?” He also noted a Roanoke College study that found the Williamson Road neighborhood to have high childhood obesity rates. This amenity not only addresses economic disparities, but also the health disparities in this community.
Equitable Play Every Day
Officially open and ready for action, this new court is equipped with permanent goals for year-round play and is painted red and black to match Breckenridge Middle School’s colors. Additionally, there are two newly painted tennis courts that are also lined for pickleball, another sport rising in popularity. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Saturday, December 18 at 11 AM. Everyone is encouraged to attend and even play a pick-up game or two afterward. Berbic will be there and hopes that this court draws people from other communities to check out what Northeast has to offer. This court is the first of its kind in the City, and adds so much to this community and beyond.
When asked if there was anything else he wanted to say about this project, Berbic left us with this: “I hope that the kids I’ve worked with see that it’s possible. If you put your mind toward something, you’re persistent, and you surround yourself with the right people, you can do whatever you want.” Thank you, Elvir, Star City Soccer, and everyone else who made this possible. Roanoke Parks and Recreation is excited to add this futsal court to our list of park amenities.
For more information about Roanoke Parks and Recreation facilities and programs, sign up to receive our monthly newsletter by clicking here.