By John D'Onofrio
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
With a symbolic “shot heard ‘round the community,” Lockport’s historic Kenan Center Arena unveiled its new artificial turf indoor soccer field and renovated “annex.”
About a dozen local dignitaries were on hand Thursday night at special dedication ceremony, attended by about 200 parents and soccer players, who wasted little time putting two new soccer fields to work.
The new turf installation was part of a larger arena capital project, which included the renovation of the arena’s adjacent annex room, which was gutted last year to create almost 6,000 square feet of additional space. Parts of the old artificial turf field were used to cover the new, smaller soccer field in the annex.
Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker lauded the Kenan’s effort and others who joined in to make the $106,000 capital improvement project — more than 10 years in the making — a reality. Funders include the Kenan soccer players, who raised about $60,000 selling candy, the Grigg-Lewis Foundation, the Kenan Arts Council, Rotary Club of Lockport and the Lockport Lions Club.
“The Kenan is and has always been a great asset to our community,” Tucker said. ”We thank them for everything they do to make our community a better place to live.”
Mayor Tucker was joined at the podium by several locals, including Kenan Executive Director Susan Przbyl, Kenan board of governors president Donna Lanham, Kenan sports and recreation committee chairman Al Franco, Kenan recreation manager Rick Ruhmel, as well several coaches from the Kenan and Lockport soccer club, including Mike Finnerty, who doubles as the girls varsity soccer coach at Lockport High School. Others recognized included Grigg-Lewis Foundation executive director William B. May, Kenan Arts Council president Kathy Greenfield, Rotary Club president Nancy Lange and Lions Club president John Moskalik.
Following brief statements from Przbyl, Lanham, Mayor Tucker, Franco and Ruhmel in the Kenan’s main 30,000-square-foot room, about a dozen Lockport Soccer Club players lined up in an arc and on Ruhmel’s cue, simultaneously fired a ceremonial shot on the north goal, breaking the blue and gold paper ribbons that covered it. Following refreshments, most of the players began their first official practice on the new field.
Ruhmel said an average of 1,100 youths and adults participate annually in fall, winter and summer soccer leagues and clinics at the Kenan, which began its youth soccer program in the early 1980s. The original artificial surface was purchased in the mid-1990s.
Przbyl said the completion of the renovation project was based on the Kenan Center’s mission to serve as a regional community center with programs and events involving not only recreation, but arts and education.
“With a brand new turf in the arena and a renovated annex, we now offer improved venues with more space for recreation practices and games, as well as events,” Przbyl said.
“These improvements ultimately permit the Kenan Center to provide enhanced programming, especially for our children, giving them more opportunities to be healthy kids and better citizens through sports and fair play.”
Lanham credited the Kenan’s past board president Megan Toohey, with spearheading the renovation idea.
“The entire board got behind this project in large part because of Megan’s enthusiasm and leadership,” Lanham said. “It’s gratifying to see the results of everyone’s hard work that will benefit the community and greatly enhance use of the arena for recreation and events for years to come.”
Franco said the completed project gives the Kenan’s sports and recreation committee a great sense of pride.
“Over the last couple of years, we were able to create a vision, support our community’s needs and create something tangible,” Franco said.
“The credit goes to many who brought this vision to reality, most notably Susan Przbyl, Greg Sutton, Vincent Davis, Megan Toohey, Rick Ruhmel, Tim Minderler, Charlene Porteus, Jayne Walker Lloyd, Ann Swan, Patricia George, Barb Hollasch and the Kenan Center sports and recreation committee. We look forward to a new generation of our community’s youth enjoying and benefiting from the advances we celebrate today.”
Ruhmel, who’s been with the Kenan since 2001, said the improvements increase the Kenan’s ability to provide expanded soccer, lacrosse and volleyball programs. In the past, rental space was much more limited, he said.
“These improvements will increase the Kenan Center’s ability to provide additional rental time for local community groups,” Ruhmel said. “We were at a point where we were out of practice hours and we were turning groups away. These improvements will allow us to double our prime time hours.
“The renovated annex creates scheduling flexibility that will open the doors to more special events like boxing, kickboxing and wrestling. Groups can also rent out facilities for training, clinics, tournaments and other special events.”