Soccer teams play in the rain. Why shouldn't the grand opening for the new soccer fields in Owatonna happen despite a downpour. Rain had mostly stopped as the ribbon cutting was held for the Daikin Soccer Complex on Rice Lake Street. Owatonna Soccer Association (OSA) members, City of Owatonna and Parks and Recreation representatives, plus major sponsors were on hand for the occasion. There were even a couple of kids kicking soccer balls on the fields in the background.

I spoke with current Owatonna High School girls soccer coach Nate Gendron after the ceremony. He recalled growing up in the Owatonna youth soccer program and playing at the Lincoln Complex, which is now about 20 years old. He talked of his excitement when lights were added to Lincoln.

There are no lights at the Daikin Complex. Yet. But dreams of a Phase II with a pavilion and paved parking lots and lights were teased during the grand opening.

David Keller, co-chair of fundraising for the OSA, said, "Just so pleased to have you folks make it here today. You've braved the elements so I thank you for that. Today is really the culmination of a couple of years of a lot of vision, effort, time and money for a great project."

Keller said the soccer program outgrew the existing fields in town. The Daikin Complex has a full-sized field and several mid and small fields. He thanked the many aspects of the community that came together to make it happen.

Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz stated, "You look around this field and it just says 'Owatonna.' It takes a team to put a project together that wants to stick with it...You've got to be devoted. You've got to do fundraising. And you've got to get it done. But it only gets done when the community supports that project." Kuntz spent a few years in England and saw how passionate fans can get over soccer. There's over 1,000 participants in the various levels of Owatonna soccer.

Donors to the project included major corporations, small businesses, individual soccer supporters and even small donations from kids in the community. The land belonged to the Nass family, who sold it for less than it's appraised value. Kuntz pointed out that the Owatonna Fire Department was able to do some training at a controlled burn while prepping the land for its new purpose.

Senior Director of Owatonna Parks and Recreation Jenna Tuma said, "Congratulations on a fabulous soccer complex. I've been around sports and rec all my career and this is top notch. You guys should be proud of the work you've done," adding, "People ask me all the time, 'Why Owatonna?' This is why."

Will Fort, Vice President/General Manager with Daikin Applied, grew up in Europe playing soccer and still plays today. He spoke of Daikin's efforts to give back to the local communities where they are located. Daikin has been in Owatonna for about 20 years.

Dave Furness, co-chair of fundraising with OSA, was introduced as the 'Godfather of Owatonna soccer' by Keller. Furness spoke of the history of soccer in town and the work that went into the Lincoln Complex two decades ago. He said Owatonna should be in position to host tournaments with the number of fields now available.

Gendron said after the official grand opening, "This is great for Owatonna. I was a big part of the Lincoln Complex. I remember being a kid and picking rock out there, getting the fields ready. Our sport has grown so much and we needed this in our community."

He remembers going door-to-door in fundraising efforts, and the day the lights went up, "We were at a friend's house and we saw the lights up, [and said] 'That's the lights.' We quickly rushed over to Lincoln. That feeling was so huge."

Several players off the girls soccer team are up for Owatonna Athlete of the Year, "That's just great. That truly shows the level of athletes that Owatonna has. I'm super proud of our soccer players, but all the athletes too."

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