Kickin' back on the beach

In Bill Sawer's house there is a sign that has the quote "If you build it they will come" cut into the wood.

Sawer said he hopes the line from the movie "Field of Dreams" that were whispered to an owner of a corn field in Iowa will carry over to a river valley in Colorado.

"My brother made that sign for me when I first bought this land," Sawer said. "I'll put it in every once in a while when I'm feeling down about developing the place."

The recently retired groundskeeper for Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs has a passion for the sport of soccer as well as passing on his knowledge to younger generations.

On his land south of First Street in Craig is a regulation soccer field and now his newest addition -- a sand soccer field.

"I don't know if there is something like this in Colorado," he said about his sand field. "My goal is for this to serve as a training spot for the youth in Craig."

Sawer had originally planned to build an indoor facility on his land, but his plans didn't fit building codes that the city required.

"What I wanted didn't fit what would have been a normal building," he said. "City ordinances required that I have heated bathrooms and water pipes, which wasn't what I wanted."

So Sawer moved on with another plan -- the sand field. Three months of work and 86 tons of sand later, the 80-foot-by-50 foot field is ready for its first tournament Sunday.

"This is an experiment on my part," he said. "Nobody has seen anything like this or played on this surface much, so it's up to them to like it."

As the tournament organizer, Sawer said his expectations aren't too high. Teams from Montrose, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs have expressed interest but because he won't charge a fee until teams show up, he wasn't sure how many he would have.

"I hope to have 10 teams or so," he said. "But from past experience you never know until the teams show up."

Beyond the tournament, the Craig Youth Soccer coach said he hopes to see the field become a place for training when other places aren't available.

"In the winter we have been playing indoors at Craig Middle School but last year, they cut our time in half," he said. "The girls high school team was practicing in the old County General store because of the snow this spring and that is on hard cement."

While the mid-winter will not allow for time on the sand, the surface's ability to absorb heat will allow for it to clear off sooner than turf.

"I was on the CNCC (Colorado Northwest Community College) campus in February and there was a foot of snow around the sand volleyball court but none on the court," he said. "Sand keeps the snow off it longer and on it shorter because it absorbs heat."

The sand game will provide training opportunities that players may not have on grass fields. They will play shoeless, with only five players on the field at once and the games will only be 10 to 15 minutes long.

All three differences are what Sawer said he thinks will be the advantages for the athletes.

"When you play without your shoes, it forces you to use every part of you foot except your toes," he said. "That is the way that foreigners learn the sport and it helps with form."

With a limited amount of players on the field and in such a short space, the game emulates futsal, a new game that is growing in popularity around the world. The five-player game will be an Olympic sport in 2006 and it is something Sawer has been teaching during the indoor season.

The shorter games are necessary because of the workout a player gets in the sand.

"There is a lot more resistance in the sand," Sawer said. "Body parts will be burning quickly."

With the rate that sand absorbs heat, muscles may not be the only things burning Sunday in the mid-afternoon. But by raking the sand to rotate the top levels and watering it down Sawer said he could keep the heat down off the bottoms of players' feet.

All of Sawer's theories about the field will be unproven until Sunday as he hasn't allowed anyone to play on it prematurely.

"My Craig Youth Soccer team wanted to play on it but I told them they had to come to the tournament if they wanted to do that," he said. "I've even been trying to hold back myself from playing on it."

Sawer paid $2,500 out of his pocket to bring in five trucks of sand and to complete the field. An amount he said he though he could make back in five years by charging a dollar for athletes to play.

"I'm not out for a profit on this," he said. "I just wanted to make something to help the soccer community and when the indoor facility was cancelled, this was my next idea."

While he has no plans to have former soccer greats come out of the cattails of the Yampa River and play on the field under the lights, he said he hopes that Craig will make some of its own soccer legends under the light.

"The high school program has improved the last year and I hope this will help that trend continue," he said. "It would be great some nights to watch as kids play out there with a flood light illuminating the field."

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