Perrysburg resident Ken Ernsberger said he never really played soccer growing up and didn't know much about the sport.
How, then, did he and his wife, Sally, come to build a new, 78,000-square-foot facility in Rossford called Gold Medal Indoor Sports, which is used primarily by indoor soccer enthusiasts in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan? Try some extensive research, advice from friends, and $3.5 million.
Gold Medal, at 10020 South Compass Drive in Rossford, near Fremont Pike, opened its doors in late October and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month. The facility hosts leagues for indoor soccer, flag football, volleyball, lacrosse, and futsal, a form of soccer played with a ball that doesn't bounce.
Mr. Ernsberger, 49, an international airline pilot for US Airways, said he originally was interested in building an indoor baseball training facility for his younger son, Alex, about five years ago. Through his travels as a pilot, Mr. Ernsberger was able to visit such baseball complexes and discovered that all of them were experiencing some sort of financial trouble.
Mr. Ernsberger discussed his findings with Perrysburg High School boys' soccer coach Mike Timbrook, who flew with him when both were pilots for the Ohio Air National Guard. Mr. Timbrook told him to build an indoor soccer complex in the vicinity of Perrysburg, and soccer players in the area would fill it.
The Ernsbergers then contacted Jim Cline, who is based in Columbus and has helped construct other indoor soccer facilities in the United States, to set up a business plan for them to follow. The couple proceeded to hire Rudolph Libbe Inc. as its general contractor and began the $3.5 million project in April.
"People want to play games, not just do this practice stuff," Mr. Ernsberger said. "That's why soccer works in facilities like ours and baseball doesn't.
"It's unfortunate we couldn't make baseball work, but it's important to me to have a venue for kids to play at and have fun."
Gold Medal consists of three, 80-foot by 180-foot soccer fields with boards on all sides and synthetic turf. There is a smaller, 50-foot by 80-foot soccer field and a volleyball court with the same dimensions. The building has a concession stand with beer for sale, a pro shop, meeting room and game room, and it has wireless Internet capabilities.
Mr. Ernsberger said the number of fields he and his wife - an airline pilot too - have allows the facility to accommodate up to 750 athletic teams in an eight-week session.
"We are both gone from 10 to 12 days a month," Mr. Erns-
berger said. "When we're not flying, we're here. And when we are gone, we're on the Internet doing research. "
Arnold Zirkes, who is in charge of day-to-day operations as Gold Medal's general manager, wouldn't disclose how many teams and leagues the facility hosted during its first session.
But he said the building is "doubling to tripling" the count of teams and leagues it will host in its second session, which is set to begin in early January.
Mr. Zirkes said there is an obvious indicator of the Ernsbergers' long-term commitment to the business. "Putting the crushed stone underneath the main fields shows we're serious," he said. "If we weren't, we could've used concrete for the whole thing and sold this place as a warehouse if it didn't work out."
Some soccer players from near and far are playing at Gold Medal for different reasons.
Andy Hotz, a sophomore who plays soccer for Rossford, said the proximity of the building to his home led him to participate in indoor soccer for the first time in three years.
David Laginess, who recently finished his senior season at St. Mary's Catholic Central in Monroe, said Gold Medal is nicer, bigger, and less crowded than other facilities and is worth the 30-minute drive from his residence. "I'm done playing high school soccer, but this place gives me a way to stay in shape and have some fun," he said.