Target and the U.S. Soccer Foundation installed seven new mini-pitches throughout Greater Denver in 2020 as part of their joint effort to create 100 safe places to play by the end of 2020. Michael, a member of the local sports-surfacing crew that worked these projects, had the opportunity to work on a mini-pitch at his former elementary school.
Michael Sandoval grew up in the Cole neighborhood of Denver, Colorado in a duplex that was only meant for two people, but housed him, his parents, and his four siblings. Across the street was his school, Wyatt Elementary, which he attended from 1967 to 1974.
Michael remembers his time at Wyatt fondly, reminiscing about father-son nights with special appearances from Denver Broncos players; field trips to go hiking, to the theatre, or horseback riding; and the nights families would bring baked goods for raffles to raise money for the school. “It was a very involved school as far as being involved in the student’s ability to not only learn, but to enjoy going to that school,” says Michael. “The time I spent at the school was a very enjoyable time in my life.”
After his time as a student at Wyatt Elementary (now Wyatt Academy), Michael served in the Marine Corps and then worked for TSA. A cabinetmaker by trade, Michael only started working as a sports-surfacing vendor – which involves delicate work in applying coatings, lines, and logos by hand on tennis courts, tracks, and other venues – in the last three years. (The U.S. Soccer Foundation works with sports-surfacing vendors to create mini-pitches.) This past year, Michael has done various surfacing jobs as part of the Coatings, Inc. team.
Michael notes the uniqueness of resurfacing an area in a neighborhood that is meant for public use and free play: “It’s really enjoyable to see something that needs to be done over or something new that needs to be built and once you’re done with it and look at it, know that you’ve created something not just for somebody’s personal courts that we do, but for the community.”
Michael was only more overjoyed when he learned that his team was assigned to resurface a site for a Target and U.S. Soccer Foundation mini-pitch at his alma mater. He remembers thinking to himself, “We are going to do something productive for the kids at the school that I went to.”
By the time Michael and the rest of his crew got to Wyatt Academy for the job, they were already well-equipped for success. “That mini-pitch was the fourth or fifth mini-pitch that we did,” Michael recalls. “As we did those courts, we learned a lot and became more comfortable laying out the dimensions and using the stencils to apply logos.”
But that didn’t stop Michael from doing his best work, even if it meant being affectionately teased by his colleagues. “I was really proud and satisfied to do that particular job at Wyatt Elementary,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that when we were done…that everything was perfect.”
As Michael reminisces about his time as a student, he can’t help but acknowledge that the community has changed – in a positive way – and he is hopeful that the mini-pitches at Wyatt Academy and across the Denver area will only serve to contribute to those positive changes. He notes that the community now has an internet café, bringing everyone together and providing access to technology that they might not otherwise have. “People in the area are now more integrated than it was back when I lived in that area.”
And the mini-pitch, he says, should bring “the community a bit closer as far as the children integrating and having the joy of playing a game that most people would believe is only for certain people.”
In particular, he notes that mini-pitches provide a simple solution for landowners that may lack sufficient space for a full-size field. “This is for schools that don’t have that much area to be able to create a soccer field in their school environment,” he explains. “This really helps them create some type of sporting activity that normally they wouldn’t be able to do.”
Michael elaborates by explaining that the popularity of soccer has significantly grown because more and more people are seeing that anyone who wants to play soccer can and that they can excel at the sport if they are diligent. He credits projects like the mini-pitches for providing this vision. “The soccer mini-pitches that are there are actually helping younger generations to learn and become aware that they can achieve the ability to become good at something that they never thought they would be.”
Target and the U.S. Soccer Foundation are on a mission to create 100 mini-pitches nationwide by the end of 2020. Learn more about the partnership here.