Operating two facilities and a variety of programs in our community, Whatcom Sports and Recreation is non-profit organization whose mission is “to provide an affordable, safe, fun and healthy environment where the community can enjoy a wide range of unique recreational programs and activities.”
It all began with a love of soccer.
In 1986, a group of soccer enthusiasts established the Whatcom Soccer Commission (now known as Whatcom Sports and Recreation). Their goal was to create a permanent facility for youth soccer in Whatcom County, and they worked with the Whatcom County Parks Department to obtain 31 acres of old farmland. Northwest Soccer Park was developed on the land, with space for 12 full-size grass soccer fields.
Phillips 66 Soccer Park
Northwest Soccer Park (now known as Phillips 66 Soccer Park) has been increasingly successful over the years, attracting nearly 10,000 players from Whatcom County Youth Soccer Association and the Whatcom County Adult Soccer Association. During Whatcom County Youth Soccer Association’s 16-week season, more than 11,000 people attend the games each weekend. Regional tournaments like the Baker Blast bring in 180 youth teams — amounting to 3,300 players and coaches. These programs go a long way in boosting Whatcom County’s economy by filling hotel rooms and supporting local businesses.
Today, Northwest Soccer Park has a new name and is undergoing a major upgrade. Washington State and Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery are funding two new turf fields, lights, and a scoreboard for the park. As part of the agreement, Northwest Soccer Park has been renamed Phillips 66 Soccer Park. Upgrades should be complete by the end of June, according to Whatcom Sports and Recreation Executive Director, Lance Calloway.
Whatcom Sports and Recreation facilities have always operated without any tax burden to Bellingham residents. “Up until this large project with the turf fields, we haven’t taken any government money or taxpayer dollars at all after almost 31 years of existence,” Lance says.
Lance has been involved with the organization since 1998. “My predominant role is overseeing a phenomenal staff of people that make the programs run,” Lance says. He’s also the head coach of the Bellingham United Football Club, a local semi-pro soccer club. Known by fans as the “Hammers,” Bellingham United F.C. calls Civic Field and neighboring Bellingham Sportsplex home.
Whatcom Sports and Recreation took over management of Bellingham Sportsplex in 2004, in a partnership with the City of Bellingham. At the time, Whatcom Sports and Recreation was still known as the Whatcom Soccer Commission. “It was in the community’s best interest that we took the Sportsplex on,” explains Lance. “It saved the city quite a bit of money compared to them trying to operate it. So that’s when we changed our name to Whatcom Sports Commission.”
Nearly 600,000 people use Bellingham Sportsplex annually. Its features include an NHL-size ice arena for hockey and skating, as well as a turf side with two indoor soccer arenas. This multi-use facility is located next to Civic Field and hosts a variety of recreational programs.
Whatcom Sports and Recreation Programs
A final name change in 2015 — from Whatcom Sports Commission to Whatcom Sports and Recreation — reflects the organization’s commitment to the community. “We changed our name to Whatcom Sports and Recreation because it doesn’t sound governmental,” Lance says. “We’re really about athletic facilities and programs.”
Whatcom Sports and Recreation organizes programs at both of its facilities, including academies for youth and adults. Lance explains, “We’ve got a hockey academy — the Blazers — providing introductory and learning.” Want to learn to play hockey? Check out the Blazers Learn to Play and Hockey Academy, held at Bellingham Sportsplex. For those interested in figure skating, the Learn to Skate Academy is also held there.
At Phillips 66 Soccer Park, the Hammers FC Academy hosts weeklong summer soccer camps for kids. “The Hammers FC is a soccer academy providing a variety of programs from tots — young kids 3 to 4 years old — all the way to middle- and younger high-school aged kids,” Lance says. “We provide both group and small training, as well as some team programs where they are playing for short periods of time to further develop their skills.”
Though names have changed along the way, Whatcom Sports and Recreation’s goals have remained the same — “to build, operate and maintain athletic facilities and programs for youth and adult recreational activities in Whatcom County.” And more than 30 years after its inception, the organization is still scoring those goals.
“The reason our organization has been successful,” Lance says, “is the people that work for the organization: our board of directors and — most importantly — the user groups that we coordinate to facilitate their programming.”