In New Jersey, “going to the gym” means more than just lifting weights or hitting the treadmill. State-of-the-art sports facilities throughout the Garden State offer everything from elite sports training to laser tag. One thing many of them have in common is a focus on community.
If you haven’t been to one of these mega-facilities, you might be surprised when you walk in. At the Branchburg Sports Complex (BSC) in Branchburg, general manager Steve Sokol said it’s common for the entire 250-space parking lot to fill up. on a given day. According to Sokol, the resort, which opened in 2010, offers amenities ranging from two full basketball courts to a play maze, “which looks like a big jungle gym for kids to play in.”
Sokol said BSC is always trying to add something new. An addition is a GaGa Ball court. “It’s a bit like a dodgeball in an octagon-like enclosure,” Sokol explained. “Parents don’t know what it is, but kids all know what it is.”
At the Florham Park Sports Dome & Event Center (FPSD), there are full-size football and basketball pitches, among other offerings. The resort is building an NHL-size ice hockey rink and swimming pool, and recently launched an events company and hired an experienced events coordinator, said Laurie Reeder, executive director of development. strategy and operations.
Sports complexes also offer niche offers
Despite the range of offerings at facilities in the area, they also specialize in particular sports and age groups.
Sokol said much of the programming at BSC’s 78,000-square-foot facility focuses on activities for children ages 3 to 10. This includes flag football and basketball leagues. But BSC also offers a training space for older children who play as a team. He said the complex does not cater to one city or one team, but allows for a neutral location where teams can train. “We are the Switzerland of sports complexes,” joked Sokol.
David Conklin, a Livingston High School hockey coach and dad of middle school, high school, and college kids, founded FPSD in 2019. According to Reeder, he’s focused on high-level sports — no surprise considering the experience of its founder as a parent and coach of the elderly. kids.
According to Reeder, the FPSD provides space for area teams to train and also partners with established coaches in a number of disciplines to provide on-site coaching to athletes. For example, coaches from Parisi Speed School are available to help athletes improve their speed and endurance, while sport-specific coaches from programs like The Football Academy NJ and Building Blocks Lacrosse can help. students to train in their specific sports.
“We have aligned and partnered with many elite level training clubs in the region,” Reeder noted. “We have a lot of different partnerships that we are creating in order to bring these high-profile, well-established businesses to the local community.”
A new kid on the sports complex block in New Jersey offers a specific, hip niche. Newly opened in February 2022, Mercer Bucks Pickleball Club (MBPC) caters to what co-founder Sharon Voelzke said is the fastest growing sport in America, with enthusiasts “between 12 and 80 years old.” Unlike facilities that offer a variety of activities, MBPC is all pickleball, all the time. The 26,000 square foot club features nine indoor courts that can be divided to accommodate different groups and levels of play, as well as social and event spaces.
Clubs foster community connections
Even with all the offerings offered at New Jersey sports complexes, one thing many of them have in common is their effort to foster the community.
Before co-owning a new pickleball club, Voelzke had a 30-year consulting career. After retiring in 2019, she said, “I was just struggling with what I’m doing now.” During the pandemic, she and her husband Bob took up pickleball, often playing with their friends and neighbors Becky and Frank Gabriele. As the Voelzkes considered their next steps after retirement, Sharon asked her husband and the Gabrieles, “Why don’t we just open a pickleball club?” So they did.
Throughout her career, Voelzke said she “travelled everywhere”, with frequent trips from New York to London and Washington, DC. His new concert “is in my garden”. In addition to having founded the company with its neighbours, the construction company which won the tender for the works of the club is run by another neighbour. Beyond geographic community, Voelzke said she wanted to foster community among players, pairing them with others of a similar skill level and providing event space. “It’s a happy environment,” she said.
Reeder said FPSC’s location on the edge of Florham Park and close proximity to nearby towns including Livingston, Short Hills, Milburn and East Orange provide a “prime location” for customers across the region. According to Reeder, the location and variety of training and coaching options also provide another benefit for busy parents: one-stop shopping. She said parents with kids in multiple programs, sports and skill levels don’t need to spend as much time rolling kids from one sport to another.
“One of the big things, one of our main goals, is an open and accessible training center for everyone at all levels,” Reeder said. This not only includes sports offerings, but also programs such as robotics and STEM. “We want to operate a bit like a community center, so we don’t just offer sports.”
Similarly, at BSC, community involvement includes non-sports amenities. For example, Sokol said the complex hosts Project Graduation programs, in which high schools sponsor alcohol-free graduation parties for seniors.
At the height of the pandemic school closures, Sokol said BSC provided a socially distanced distance learning center at one of the club’s playing fields. A certified teacher on staff facilitated online schooling, helping students connect to their classes and connect with their parents. “It wasn’t a way to make money; it was probably a waste of money for us,” Sokol noted. “But we were trying to serve the community and do the right thing.”
Reeder said FPSC has also taken steps during the pandemic, such as installing grass on outdoor fields to accommodate outdoor summer camps and taking reservations for “groups” of members to allow the facility to be used in small groups. “What we were doing was trying to provide an outlet because a lot of these kids mentally and emotionally needed to get out, needed to be social,” Reeder said.
With the variety of athletic training and entertainment at facilities across the state, recreational athletes and families can certainly find a place.
Suzi Morales is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who writes about business, careers and networking, law, and fitness.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.