Manchester soccer pitch

Waleed Al Thuwayni, 16, from Manchester, shows his skills during the opening of the Mini Soccer Pitch at Sheehan-Basquil Park on Maple Street in Manchester on Thursday.

MANCHESTER — City officials and soccer players pulled the curtain back on Manchester’s first mini-pitch facility Thursday, and though the site drew high praise from local dignitaries, no one said it better than Anzuruni Ilunga.

The Ward 5 resident was all smiles as he stepped off the mini-pitch after taking part in the site’s first unofficial friendly.

“It’s good,” said Ilunga, 13. “Real good.”

The mini-pitch, built on the site of the former Adam Curtis Skate Park at Sheehan-Basquil Park, is the 25th built across North America by Southern New Hampshire University in partnership with Major League Soccer, MLS Works and the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

Manchester soccer pitch

SNHU soccer players watch Waleed Al Thuwayni, 16, from Manchester, during the opening of the mini soccer pitch at Sheehan-Basquil Park on Maple Street in Manchester on Thursday.

“Manchester is and always will be SNHU’s home base,” said Patty Lynott, campus president of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

“We’re just thrilled to open this mini-pitch in our own backyard, our hope is that this soccer field will give local youth a safe place to play and also have a positive impact on the community.”

Mayor Joyce Craig cited the importance of having a mini-pitch facility available to youth in the city. She said the site will serve local youth from the SNHU Center for New Americans as well as the greater community, as a safe place for kids to play on the east side of Manchester.

“This field is meeting the needs of youth and our community,” said Craig. “Now we have a place where students from Beech Street School and Wilson Street School and those youths who live in the neighborhood can work with and play in a world-class mini-pitch.”

Manchester soccer pitch

SNHU soccer player Mike Goncalves as goal keeper during the opening of the Mini Soccer Pitch at Sheehan-Basquil Park on Maple Street in Manchester on Thursday.

A second mini-pitch is expected to be built in the near future on the Queen City’s West Side, near the Parkside Middle and Gossler Park Elementary schools.

In 2018, the Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Division of the city’s Public Works department was offered a non-matching grant from US Soccer and SNHU in the amount of $160,000 to cover construction of two 50 ft. x 100 ft. asphalt soccer areas in Manchester.

Retiring Parks and Recreation director Don Pinard said this first mini-pitch is “just the beginning” of additional yet-to-be-finalized improvements to Sheehan-Basquil Park.

“There’s no hard plan for what’s going in here,” said Pinard. “We’re talking about a playground, a splash pad — which I think would be a huge addition for this neighborhood, a smaller footprint for the pool, and then after that it’s up in the air. We’re really going to be looking for public input.”

Pinard said he would expect opportunities for the public to weigh in on park improvements starting sometime this fall.

“The more opportunities we can give kids to do what they love to do, in this case play soccer, and they can walk from home and play in a safe and healthy environment, is wonderful,” said Craig.

“This is a kick start to what we’ll be having in this park. It’s really important, given the history of this park, that when we renovate it and make enhancements it’s what the community wants, what the neighbors want.”

Manchester soccer pitch

Children from the Center for New Americans play during the opening of the mini soccer pitch at Sheehan-Basquil Park on Maple Street in Manchester on Thursday.