Downtown Soccer League Has a Ball Celebrating 25th Anniversary

Dom Wissman leads a pack of soccer players with one of the giant inflated balls that were part of the fun at the Downtown Soccer League's anniversary celebration. Wissman, the league's web master, and his wife Susan, the administrator, are long-time volunteers in the program. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 25, 2018

The Downtown Soccer League celebrated its 25th anniversary in a big way on Sunday as thousands of kids and parents converged on the Battery Park City ball fields for a slew of activities. Action filled every corner of the field, from limbo, line dancing and soccer tennis, to near magical displays of ball control by Juan Ramirez and David Pulecio of the New York Red Bulls Freestyle Crew.

It was all a vivid reminder of just how far the league, with its 1,900 players, 140 teams and 95 local business sponsors has come since its fledgling first season in 1993. That year those “temporary” fields were still slated for apartment buildings, and fewer than 175 children played soccer on them. Today, the 320 players in the Girls Division alone is more than double the number from when it was launched just four years ago, said Eileen Montague, the Girls Division co-founder and Downtown Soccer League vice president.

“We are thrilled to report dramatically improved retention rates,” Montague said of the girls participation.

This was a time to recall the league’s beginnings and the group that preceeded it for what then was a tiny community. The Manhattan Skyscrapers, started by Manhattan Youth and its executive director Bob Townley, began playing on Battery Park City’s Rector Lawn in 1991. In a deal worked out by Community Board 1, soccer players and Little Leaguers moved to a bigger field, what became the site of the New York Mercantile Exchange. But not for long.

“There were gatherings and meetings to move from the Merc to where the fields are now,” Townley recalled. Since 1986, local parents had been pushing for space where kids could play ball.

In 1992, the year before the formation of the Downtown Soccer League, the Battery Park City Authority agreed to create the temporary fields for soccer and the new Downtown Little League. (Parents Susan Klein and Donna Epstein would become the soccer league’s first president and vice president.) Later, largely through the initiative of Community Board 1, those fields would be deemed permanent.

“One of the epic struggles of the community board was getting those fields,” said Paul Goldstein, who was the board’s district manager during those years. “It was tremendously invaluable. By having a facility like that in the community it attracted more families to Lower Manhattan.”

Such battles were far in the past on this celebratory Sunday, when leaders of the league and the authority only had words of good will.

“The Battery Park City ball fields are a big part of what makes the Battery Park City community special,” BPCA President B.J. Jones told the crowd. “And Downtown soccer is a big part of that as well.”

The league’s President Will Rogers, and its former president and current commissioner Bill Bialosky returned the sentiment.  

“We’re really grateful over the years,” Bialosky said, “for what Battery Park City has done.”

And grateful, too, Bialosky said, for someone he noted has been with the league from the beginning: Manny D’Almeida, the head referee. D’Almeida, who will turn 80 in February, said he doesn’t recall when he began with the league. But he knows why he has stuck with it all this time.

“I love to be active,” said the ref and coach, whose youthful vigour belies his age, “and especially I love seeing the progress and joy that kids get from the sport."

The seasons come and the seasons go, he added. I love every part of it.