By Chris McCarthy/ Publisher/Editor
Local youngsters no longer must trek to Birmingham or Huntsville to enjoy an indoor sports facility.
The Sports Zone and Fun Center opened its doors last past May, and business has been booming at the former Computer Discount Warehouse building located at 105 Industrial Boulevard in Rainbow City.
1995 Gadsden High graduate and area youth soccer coach Bill Martin said that the multi-purpose facility was about 10 years in the making, and that one of the biggest reasons for the delay was the importance of finding the right building at the right price.
It all came together when a Texas resident no longer wished to pay taxes on the property.
“I’ve had the business plan put together forever, but it took this long to find the structure we needed,” said Martin, the facility’s owner and operator. “We got the building in February, so we only had a three-month window of cleaning it out and building it up. So we definitely hit the ground running, and we really haven’t stopped for the past seven months. The big thing was devoting myself full-time, because this really isn’t a part-time job.”
Martin is still putting the finishing touches on the facility in terms of painting and light carpentry.
“We spent every night down here for the first few months until 2 or 3 in the morning painting or building. Our first program was gymnastics, and that really helped us get off the ground. Word got around, and people begin to come by and see what’s going on. Everybody’s been real receptive.”
Martin said that approximately 250 kids signed up for an indoor soccer league that runs through Feb. 10.
“We thought we’d get around 150, so we’ve really exceeded our expectations,” he said. “A lot of the kids in this area have never even seen indoor soccer, so this winter league is a good introduction for them. Plus, this is the offseason for a lot of sports, so we’ve had lots of kids sign up who’ve never played soccer before.”
Besides indoor soccer, Sports Zone offers baseball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, cheerleading, karate, wrestling, dodgeball, kickball and an indoor walking track. School field trips, team lock-ins and preschool and homeschool PE programs also are offered.
“With a building this size and being in this particular area, we couldn’t be soccer-specific,” Martin pointed out. “We couldn’t sustain the facility if that was the case. I’m a soccer guy, but I love all sports, and I really believe that Gadsden and the surrounding area is big enough to support a facility like this one year-round.”
Sports Zone is not limited to the younger set. The facility offers several adult leagues, such as soccer and flag football, while several varsity baseball teams from are schools use the facility’s indoor batting cages and indoor turf for preseason training.
It’s also beneficial for a new business to have the support of the local municipality, which the Sports Zone enjoys with the City of Rainbow City.
“They had a lot of questions that we answered as best we could, and they helped us with the re-zoning and really got on board with it,” said Martin.
Part of Martin’s long-term goals for the facility is to hire a full-time director to take over the day-to-day operations.
“I want to get a young and energetic person who will throw themselves into this like I did, but that’s down the road,” he said. “We still in the process of getting this place up and fully running.”
Future additions include an American Gladiator-type competition that features a machine that shoots tennis balls.
The facility also hosts customized birthday parties with a play area that includes an elevated pirate ship. Martin eventually would like to add a foam pit and an in-ground trampoline. In addition, Martin hopes to introduce sports programs to children with special needs.
Martin, who was a member of the Gadsden High soccer team before playing for the University of Montevallo, believes that youth soccer has steadily gained a foothold in northeast Alabama over the past 20 years, especially with the emergence and success of both the Etowah Youth Soccer Association and the Coosa/YMCA league.
“There was no structured coaching program when I started playing, just a bunch of dads who had no background in soccer,” he said. “Now you can see how much better kids are when they’ve been coached by men or women who’ve played the game and can teach it. The players now are being development a whole lot better and faster than before.”
Martin’s father, the late Billy Martin, was a longtime youth soccer and football coach in the area. The elder Martin passed away in 2009.
“My dad helped a lot of kids, both on and off the field. He was a volunteer who coached because he loved the game and loved working with kids, so it makes me really happy when someone comes in and tells me that my dad would have been proud of a place like this.”
Martin encourages members of the community to think outside the box in regard to sports-related events and programs.
“If people say that they have something crazy in mind, I tell them I this place is for crazy things,” he said with a laugh. “We built this facility as sort of a community center, and we want folks to feel a part of that community.”
For more information, call 256-459-4782, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rbcsportzone.com.