St. John’s breaks ground for new soccer stadium

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What began as a dream for St. John’s men’s soccer coach Dave Masur and an after-dinner idea by benefactor Maxine Belson four years ago became a reality Friday at St. John’s University as ground was broken to officially begin construction of Belson Soccer Stadium.

The soccer stadium is primarily funded by a $6 million gift from Jerome and Maxine Belson. It will seat approximately 3,000 spectators and include a press box, private suites and media room.

The stadium, which will use Nike FieldTurf, the same playing surface used at the Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth, is expected to be ready for play by early September.

Masur said the Red Storm is slated to host a tournament featuring national powerhouse teams Indiana, Florida International and William and Mary that will open the stadium the weekend after Labor Day.

“Because of the tremendous foresight and support of our President [the Rev. Donald J.] Harrington and the immense generosity of our greatest alumni family and benefactor, Maxine and Jerome Belson, now we have the opportunity to showcase the soccer programs on a national stage,” Masur said. “Having this jewel of a soccer stadium for our men and women’s soccer programs will have unparalleled visibility throughout the country.”

The idea for an on-campus soccer stadium was born in August 1997 when the Belsons joined the men’s soccer team for dinner in Rome, Italy just months after it won the first NCAA national championship in school history.

“Maxine was feeding the players and one of the kids had his knee all banged up,” Jerome Belson said. “Maxine was upset to learn that playing on an artificial turf created a greater hazard than had been anticipated. That was the foundation for the creation of the stadium.”

Jerome Belson said the original idea was to build a field that cost about $50,000. But as time went on, the plans got bigger and bigger. So did the cost of the project.

“We vowed to do something to enable them to play on a national stage, so they can have a home field,” he said. “To have a championship team and not to have a home field was kind of awkward. It just added extra pressure to the coach and the soccer program. That’s the reason we decided to get the funds necessary to make this happen.”

Despite having one of the most successful programs in the country, the St. John’s men’s soccer team was forced to play some of its biggest games — Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament matches — away from home because its home field, DaSilva Memorial Field, was an artificial turf football field.

“There has been a lot of talk about it, but now that it’s actually happening I guess excitement is the best word to describe it,” said Chris Wingert, a sophomore defender on the men’s soccer team. “Everybody’s just elated to have the new stadium.”

The stadium will be on a raised platform, with parking underneath so all of the 400 parking spots that have been temporarily remove because of construction will return.

The field will be adjacent to The Ballpark at St. John’s, the baseball field that was built two years ago with city funds to temporarily house a New York Mets minor league team.

Seating at the new soccer stadium will be in three sections of about 1,000 seats each, creating an intimate setting for spectators.

“Today in the development of fields and stadiums, the spectator is important. Making sure the spectator has a good seat, they’re comfortable, the right amenities are there, that’s how you build up a tradition,” Masur said. “We want to really dedicate ourselves towards that in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Belson Soccer Stadium will also be home to the St. John’s women’s soccer program, which has a record of 71-66-11 during Ian Stone’s eight years as head coach. The team also won the Big East title in 1994.

“We believe that the potential of the women’s soccer team is as great as that of the men’s soccer team,” said Harrington, who used a shovel that was employed to break ground on the first buildings constructed on the Queens Campus in the 1950s.

“This gift to St. John’s and to the soccer programs comes from [the Belsons] with a great confidence that we will be talking about Big East championships and Final Four appearances not just for the men but also for the women.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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