Mosey by the Faribault Soccer Complex some evening.

Search through the parking lot for an open spot. Drive down 17th Street looking for a place to parallel park. Marvel at the 230 Little Feats players weaving in concerted chaos across the mini fields. Stop by the spacious bathrooms, the concession stand, check out a travel team playing on Bahl Field.

Work your way over to the Warren Field or Carlander Field and watch the young Latinos and Somalis gathered, playing, chatting, laughing. Many of them have been nomads, wanderers looking for a place to call home before they arrived in Faribault.

That’s what, in a time not too long ago, soccer was here.

Then came the Faribault Soccer Complex, and home arrived.

Just 17 years ago Faribault didn’t have a Soccer Association. It didn’t have a travel team. It didn’t have a home field. The high schoolers played in the outfield of Bell Field, skitting across a mix of grass and dirt like an Oakland Raiders football game.

In 1997, Faribault’s first travel team played under the Owatonna club’s umbrella. Finally, on Aug. 6, 1998, the first meeting of the Faribault Soccer Association was held. Tim Boran was its first president.

By 1999, the FSA had five teams, all boys, and the U18 C3 team finished as state runners-up. The next year featured the first girls team (U12s) and in 2003 Faribault’s U14 C3 boys team captured the organization’s first state championship.

Still, they had no home.

“We cobbled together fields all the time,” says Tim Wayland, who joined the FSA board in 2000 and served as president from 2004-08. “Every year a lot of time and effort went into finding fields. It was a struggle.”

They played at the middle school, they played behind McQuays, they play at Maple Lawn Park, they played on the lacrosse field at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

“Other towns didn’t want to come to Faribault because you were going to play on an uneven dirt field,” Wayland says.

Even the high school players at Bell Field had had enough.

“(The current facilities) are embarrassing and don’t show how hard we work,” FHS girls soccer captain Kelsey Hoisington said in 2007. “We’re a laughingstock.”

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, in a conversation that only recently came to light, a local accountant named Wesley Bahl was speaking with the sheriff, Dick Cook. Wes told his friend that the town needed a dedicated soccer field and they wondered what they could do to help.

But Wes died, in 2003, before anything was done, before even his wife, Marian, knew of his interest in getting such a project going. But she did know, as did their son Tracy, how much the children of Faribault meant to the man who had been the main push behind bringing the STRIVE program to town through his Rotary membership.

“My father was an active supporter of sports in town, particularly when my sister and I were participating,” says Tracy Bahl. “He loved the sight and sound of children playing and having fun outdoors.”

In a wonderful instance of cosmic convergence, Marian and Tracy approached the City of Faribault on Feb. 22, 2006, asking bluntly which projects the city hoped to do, but simply couldn’t afford. Three options were offered, but the idea for a soccer complex stood out.

“This was the one that struck home to me as benefitting the kids the most,” Marian Bahl says. “That’s one of the criteria of Tracy’s foundation. There was a definite need.”

“We started with the idea that we wanted to do something to honor my father and benefit Faribault at the same time,” Tracy Bahl said. “This community was so important to my father and my family that it seemed fitting to celebrate his life by giving back to something that was so special to it.”

The Bahl Foundation soon stepped forward and put up an earth-shattering $1 million dollars toward the project, which combined with a $50,000 donation from the Rotary Club, immediately meant the project was more than a pipe dream.

“That’s when it came to fruition,” Wayland says. “That was huge. We still had to put a lot of other things together but once you had that piece, that made it more realistic to everyone else to give to it.”

Give they did. Much in the spirit of the recent H. Robert Fielitz Fitness Center, donors came forward in droves. The Carlander family gave $50,000, an anonymous FHS grad and classmate of Wes gave $100,000 and asked that one field be named for his former principal Jim Warren and the FSA raised $170,000. The Bahl Foundation pledged to match donations and eventually poured in another $230,000, raising its total contribution to $1.23 million.

The money was there, and so was the cooperation. The City of Faribault, Faribault School District, Faribault Soccer Association and Faribault Park and Rec all worked hand-in-hand through the obstacles still in the way.

“What was really neat was almost everyone involved, no one had a vested interest,” Wayland says. “They didn’t have kids in the association, they didn’t have ties, but they did it for the community. Here was something that was a real collaboration between the school, city and private organizations to better the community. That always stuck in my mind more than anything.”

The next step was finding land.

“People think there’s lots of space around town, but there isn’t a lot that has the amount of space soccer needs,” Temple said.

After considering some open space near the Prairie Ridge complex, the organizers settled on 30 acres of land across 17th Street Southwest from Faribault Middle School. On Dec. 15, 2007, the city and school district split the $409,000 price tag to buy 21.5 of those acres — there’s still an option to purchase the rest if needed. The school district sold a parcel of land on Western Avenue for $337,000 and only ended up spending $72,500 out of pocket.

“There may have been one letter to the editor asking why the schools spent the money, but there was very little public money used,” Wayland says. “What was spent was leveraging the Bahl money. Had the school and city not gotten involved that money would have gone to waste. It was a huge investment for the future.”

With land in hand, I&S Engineers and Architects produced a design for a building to both literally and figuratively anchor the complex, working closely with Tracy.

“We didn’t want a shack, we wanted something long-lasting,” Temple says.

“I was particularly interested in having a functional facility that was also aesthetically notable,” Tracy says. “The design and project teams indulged me every step of the way and really made us feel like we were an integral part of the team.”

But when the building went out to bid, trouble arose. Originally budgeted for $660,000, the lowest bid came in at a staggering $810,000. The Daily News responded with an editorial questioning the overall cost of the project. Back to the drawing board it was. Decorative walls and pillars (at $25,000 a pop) were lopped off. But even more important than revised drawings was the economy, which suddenly cratered. Bids were requested again, and soon came back dramatically lower. Minneapolis-based Lund Martin Construction was awarded the project for $440,500.

“The timing was just right with the economy,” Temple says. “It was a kind of a blessing we didn’t get the first (building).”

On June 9, 2008, the field was dedicated. The most vigorous shoveling came from a 6-year-old boy whose father and grandmother stood proudly by, watching a family’s dream take shape as young Andrew dug into a patch of dirt.

“It’s really difficult to describe that feeling and capture how it truly felt, but I suspect every father knows,” Tracy says. “My son idolizes his ‘Poppy’ to this day, and for him to be connected to this project is something he will remember for the rest of his life.”

The fields were close to complete by that fall, but for the long-term stability of the field it was decided to give the sod a year to settle in.

“That was like torture,” Wayland says.

The first game was played on Carlander Field. The FHS boys team beat Red Wing 3-0, a fitting introduction.

A week later the girls team stepped onto its new home for the first time.

“It’s a huge boost for our program and our community,” co-coach Gabe Korteum said at the time. “This is something the girls can really take pride in.”

A month later, on Oct. 8, 2009, the facility was dedicated. The building and Bahl Field weren’t ready yet (a major hold-up was bringing water and sewer lines across the land), but for all intents and purposes, Faribault Soccer Complex had arrived.

“It was wonderful,” Marian says. “It was a dream come true.”

As she talks on the phone on a recent Tuesday afternoon she has to pause and compose herself, four years later the memories still stirring emotions.

“When I see and hear how many kids and adults are using those fields, it’s just such a wonderful feeling,” she continues. “So many people thank me, although I didn’t do it, but they express their thanks for their kids and their grandkids.”

Tracy flew into Faribault from his home in Greenwich, Conn., for the occasion.

“I wasn’t fully prepared for the feeling I had when we pulled up that day,” he says. “It took my breath away, brought me to tears and made me smile, all at the same time. Maybe even more special was the day, some months later, when we returned to the park to see it fully in use. Kids of all sizes were playing all over the fields — happy, sunny, goofy, competitive, playful kids having a blast. That’s a scene my dad would have loved.”

On August 26, 2010, the first game was held on Bahl Field, just months before that the youth teams had begun using the fields. With a showcase facility the envy of many cities, it didn’t take long for soccer to explode in Faribault.

For years, the Little Feats program, previously called Sandlot, had drawn between 100 and 140 5-10 year olds. In 2010, the first year at the complex, 120 4-8 year olds came out. Three years later that number has ballooned to 230.

“That’s a result of many things, including that we lowered our fees, but with the new fields the growth was already happening,” Temple says. “It’s always great standing and watching the fields busy all day long. Everyone that comes here is amazed at what we have.”

The first tournament was held on May 12, 2012, and featured 20 teams. Just two months ago another tournament drew 26 teams. From 4-year-olds to high school seniors, players could now stand proud when visiting teams arrived and wanted their picture taken with the entrance’s enormous soccer ball.

“I would say comparing to what I’ve seen around the Big 9 Conference, we’re right up there,” FHS girls soccer coach Brian Meyer said in 2010. “All the hard work put into making this by the community, the school, the Bahl Foundation, I think they should be proud of what they made here.”

They are.

“We never told my dad about the project before he died,” Tracy says. “He wouldn’t have approved of the attention it gave him. But it is so great to know now that it was something that was on his mind. I like to think that in some way we helped finish something that was important to him.”

Just three year after its completion, the Faribault Soccer Complex has become one of the busiest places in town, a meeting place for cultures and generations and backgrounds and people who share in a love of one thing: soccer.

As she talks on the phone, Marian Bahl doesn’t want any credit for this. But in the end she sums up the project’s impact on the Faribault community with simple salience.

“I always say,” she starts in a way that only grandmothers can, “when they’re out running on those fields they’re not getting in trouble. They’re not sitting in front of the computer or television. They’re out having fun and exercising and making new friends. I’m just thrilled our city has this.”

Reach Sports Editor Brendan Burnett-Kurie at 333-3129, or follow him on Twitter @faribaultsports

Reach Sports Editor Brendan Burnett-Kurie at 333-3129, or follow him on Twitter @faribaultsports

Reach Sports Editor Brendan Burnett-Kurie at 333-3129, or follow him on Twitter @faribaultsports

Crack sports editor at the Faribault Daily News, purveyor of local sports scores and thoughts from FHS, BA, SSM, MSAD, WEM and K-W.

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