They’re back: Sonoma County’s indoor soccer community rejoices as games resume
“Thank God it’s back. I was about to go insane.”
Katya Robinson neatly summed up the feeling shared by adult soccer players across Sonoma County who were elated to be back playing at the Sports City indoor arena inside Epicenter Sports and Entertainment after it reopened June 15.
Sidelined by pandemic public health orders since March 2020, players have missed the exercise and the rush of competition, but more than anything, they deeply felt the loss of their tight community.
“It’s amazing to be back. It’s a whole different family you didn’t have access to,” said Robinson, 40, her blonde ponytail still damp with sweat after a game Thursday.
For Robinson, a local champion of the sport and an acclaimed special education teacher — she was honored as one of California’s Teachers of the Year for 2020 — the arena at Epicenter and its familiar faces represent a refuge.
“When I lost my home in 2017 (to wildfires), I had this home away from home to come to. Then after COVID I didn’t.”
Her boyfriend, Jonathan Jackson, also was playing Thursday night and had “really missed it” as well, she said.
“Everybody’s smiling so much and hanging out for hours after games,” she said. “Some people went into a deep depression. We had a hard time reconnecting because we didn’t know what to say to each other. We usually talked about games. We were like ‘Uh, did you watch that TV show?’”
Former team members immediately signed up to rejoin the leagues and thronged the facility and its three fields immediately on opening day.
“Soccer is our predominant sport,” said Sports City manager Nate Peters. “You hold your breath because you really don’t know if they’re coming back. We had to hire and train staff and rethink our procedures based on the state opening up, even though we didn’t have any money coming in. We sent emails, and Brad (Bergum, Epicenter spokesman) posted all over social media.
“People had shut down for 15 months. It was kind of like a big reunion,” said Peters, a Santa Rosa native.
The facility also has space for other team and individual sports including volleyball, bowling and martial arts as well as the Rockin’ Jump trampoline park, Delta Strike Laser Tag Arena, Omni Virtual Reality Arena, SD Dark Ride Interactive Theater and Anytime Fitness.
During the pandemic, Epicenter, which opened in 2016, was closed except for outdoor dining and takeout. It has opened the new locally based Piner & Coffey coffeehouse, and reopened the Victory House Sports Restaurant and cafes in the bowling and soccer areas along with more than 100 arcade games at Game On Arcade.
“When we weren’t fully open yet, they (soccer players) were so appreciative when we held no-spectator games and allowed 16 people max and required them to wear masks,” said Christina Hamner, a Sports City supervisor.
She said some of the athletes mentioned that they had gained weight and needed conditioning. As it is, many players have been calling for substitutions much earlier than they used to, Robinson said.
“We just had a small group that played pickup games,” said Jackson, 40, and a commercial fisherman.
Returning to the field is “not easy, being 40,” he said as he walked off the field and peeled back layers of protection on his legs. “My calf is so tight I can’t feel it right now.”
He likened getting out to see other adults after the pandemic to the time after “the first three or four years when you have kids and you can’t go out much.”
Many of the players manage and play on several teams. Robinson said she plays every day and manages three teams, including co-ed squads.
The indoor soccer league “family,” like its brethren worldwide, follows closely the latest in international and club competitions. They’ve gathered recently at Victory House to take in games on the widescreen of Euro 2020, the quadrennial tournament for Europe which was postponed last year..
“It’s a true community,” said player Allison Gray, 56. “We play with each other, we play against each other. I was so excited when I found out it was safe to come back and play.”
She told how so many players started donating money and supplies to families who lost their homes and belongings in 2017 firestorm that Sports City took it over and opened it up to anyone who had a need.
“It’s an example of how generous these ladies are,” Gray said.
Years ago, when indoor soccer first began locally, she said she managed six teams at a time. “Now I get to just show up and play” on three squads, she said.
Before the pandemic, there were 230 adult teams across multiple tiers and age levels, she said.
“Once more people realize it’s back and safe, there will be way more people,” Gray predicted.
You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at firstname.lastname@example.org.