CAYCE — Historic Columbia Speedway, which in recent years has been transformed into a festival venue, is about to embark on a third life as a youth soccer complex.
The Congaree Rapid Soccer Association has signed a 10-year lease on a portion of the speedway property with Sellers & Son Holding Company, allowing for the development and use of a private soccer facility. The lease includes an additional 10-year option.
The soccer club, which has organized youth teams in the area since 1993, plans to build four to six grass fields at the speedway, as well as a canteen, clubhouse and grandstand. For people coming in the main entrance off Charleston Highway in Cayce, the 11.4-acre soccer complex will be to the right of the speedway oval.
The interior of the oval still will be used for events, including car shows, concerts, the Highland Games and The World’s Largest Yard Sale. For big events, the soccer fields might be used for overflow parking. And when the soccer club wants to stage a major event, it will be allowed to create several temporary fields on the speedway’s grassy infield, said John Banks, who organizes events at the facility.
Banks said Kevin Heise, director of coaching for the soccer club, originally approached him about teams practicing and playing on the speedway infield. “I told him we’ve worked too hard on that grass to have it torn up,” Banks said.
But upon second thought, Banks thought a little-used portion of the speedway property would be ideal for soccer fields. It already had been cleared and was relatively flat.
Congaree Rapids has about 350 boys and girls players ages 8-18, drawing from throughout the Midlands but based in Cayce. The club’s teams currently practice and play on the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission complex on Barnwell Road in West Columbia, as well as fields at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Airport High School, Northside Middle School and River Bluff Baptist Church.
“The bugaboo always has been we don’t have anywhere to call our own,” Heise said. “We’re the vagabond club.”
The lease is cheap - $1 a year. The club doesn’t have any money to pay for grading the land and installing an irrigation system, turf or lighting. Heise has talked with possible sponsors and will apply for grants from soccer organizations. The first step, however, was getting the lease.
“I want people to ask, ‘What’s next?’” Heise said. “Because that’s how they can help us.”
Various youth soccer groups in Lexington County have been longing for more fields. The county recreation agency operates the complex in West Columbia and another one off Gibson Road in Lexington. A plan to build fields at the old Town of Lexington dump never gained much traction.
With the two county complexes and the new Congaree Rapids complex, the county would have enough fields to stage major regional tournaments similar to South Carolina United FC’s events that lure thousands of players to Richland County twice a year.