CORNELIUS – The back of their T-shirts proclaimed, “Let us play” and young athletes can thanks to a partnership by the Town of Cornelius and Carolina Rapids Soccer Club.

Aug. 19 marked the official dedication of the turf soccer fields recently added to Bailey Road Park.

“You are the first folks to play a game on these fields,” Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis said to the teams of all ages cheering for the occasion. “I know we’ve had some other folks play games out here, but it hasn’t been official until today. I’m looking forward to really great soccer from you.”

The project was an initiative that began more than three years ago with the town’s Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture Department, under Director Troy Fitzsimmons and Assistant Director John DeKemper, who worked with Carolina Rapids to come up with the best arrangement.

The town and soccer league are sharing the $1.1 million cost through a contract stipulating Carolina Rapids pays the town $850,000 over the next 12 years. In return, the league gets first opportunities to use the fields while still providing recreational soccer programming as has for the past decade.

Turf fields require less maintenance, including mowing, fertilizing and irrigation, than grass fields. Plus, athletes will still be able to play after a storm without worry of mud and fields won’t have to be shut down for part of the year for renovations. Officials hope this could offer more tournament play.

“This is our passion and what we love what we do,” said Carolina Rapids Executive Director Thomas Finlay, offering thanks to the Carolina Rapids board of directors, commissioners, town staff and residents. “To feel support and see support at this sort of level is completely outstanding. Thank you very much. People talk about community and doing things for the kids, and honestly people just talk a lot. … You actually walk the walk. Thank you so much for the absolute wonderful blessing to our community.”

Joining in the celebrations were Travis and commissioners Woody Washam, Jim Duke, John Bradford and David Gilroy.

Following a singing of the national anthem by 12-year-old Wallace Foutch, Finlay and Duke kicked off the ceremonial first soccer balls from the stage onto the field. All Carolina Rapids and towns officials were also presented plaques about the dedication.

“Earlier today it was pouring rain in Charlotte,” said Carolina Rapids board member Rex Bell. “This is why we have these fields. …This is a tremendous effort and a real partnership between the town of Cornelius and Carolina Rapids. This is an excellent playing facility that is safe and consistently available to us to use. We hope you all enjoy it.“

As the teams hit the fields to play, Travis, Director of Soccer Operations Erin Smith and Coach Keith Poston participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge at the prompting of Finlay. A current trend on social media, participants must choose to donate $100 to ALS research or tape themselves getting ice water poured over their heads and still offering a small donation. Travis said he would still give the $100 and challenged others to do the same.