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Edgewood's Maryland Sports Arena celebrates 25 years of indoor soccer

25 years of soccer memories in Edgewood

It's after 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, and although most of the surrounding businesses on Pulaski Highway in Edgewood are closed, the parking lot of Maryland Sports Arena is filled, and the inside is lit up bright as the day as members of opposing adult soccer teams battle for control of the ball.

The games, which would go on until midnight, started at 7:30 that morning and involved youth leagues for most of the day and early evening. The night was the adults' time.

"It's tense moments, especially when there are good teams," said Kevin Henderson, 37, of Perry Hall, who is a part-time staffer, coaches his daughter's age 9-and-under team, is an assistant coach on his son's 11-and-under team and also plays in an adult league at the arena.

"This is a very fast-paced, up-tempo game," he said of the nonstop style of indoor soccer fans can see at the Maryland Sports Arena, which has been providing space in its Edgewood facility to youth and adult soccer teams from throughout the Baltimore region for more than 25 years.

"Thankfully, because this place has been around 26 years, it has a beautiful reputation, if you will," Henderson said.

The arena's operators, president Ron Szczybor and coach Bobby McAvan, who is a former player for and head coach of the Baltimore Blast professional indoor soccer team, celebrated the business' 25th anniversary in 2014.

The pair estimates about 2,000 games are played at the facility each year, and more than 50,000 games have been played there since the arena opened in 1989.

McAvan and Szczybor stress that their facility is for soccer only, no other sports.

"We are strictly a professional indoor soccer facility," Szczybor said.

He noted that, he means professional in terms of the soccer complex, which is designed to resemble playing facilities used by professional teams such as the Blast, as well as the style of play.

The building, a former tennis club, is dominated by a 160-foot-long and 90-foot-wide field made of "rubber infill turf," according to the arena website. The ceiling is 40 feet high, and a black net stretches over the top of the field. The field is enclosed by "dasher boards," which are 12 feet high around the goals and 8 feet high around the rest of the field.

The nets keep the ball from going into the bleachers, and they also keep the ball in bounds, which allows play to keep going at a faster pace, rather than be slowed by time-outs called when the ball goes out of bounds during an outdoor soccer game.

"It's a faster game," Szczybor explained. "The ball never goes out of bounds with the professional version of indoor soccer we play."

The clear barriers around much of the field are made out of tempered glass. Fans can watch the action from bleachers, and a concession area and children's activity area with video games are also available.

Henderson noted the glass barriers are strong enough to withstand repeated strikes from the ball and players' bodies, and he said the glass used at the Maryland Sports Arena is better than the panels made from Lexan, a material similar to plexiglass used at other indoor soccer facilities, because the Lexan picks up more scuff marks that are harder to get rid of and make it harder for fans to see the action.

"We've got actual glass here, so you can see," Henderson said.

The metal halide lights over the field were also recently switched out for LED lights, and the arena operators said they plan to replace the HVAC system in the coming weeks.

January is the midst of the peak season for Maryland Sports Arena. Szczybor said the arena mostly sees youth leagues between November and April, and the arena serves youth teams ranging in age from 8 and under to 18 and under.

He said he and McAvan want to provide a fun atmosphere where parents can cheer on their children and not get swept up in serious competitiveness.

"The kids out there on the field are the focus," he explained.

McAvan, who is president of Bobby McAvan Sports, has space in the arena reserved for his soccer training clinics. The Scotland native, who has also played for the Scottish and Canadian national teams and been to the Olympics with the Canadian team, is in charge of all soccer training at the arena.

"I believe in making a difference a kid at a time," McAvan said.

He said some parents can be very competitive and push their children, but most "set realistic goals, they're keeping things in check, and they want a positive experience for their kids."

Szczybor, who spent 15 years working as a stockbroker during the 1980s and '90s, runs the facility and the leagues.

"He was miserable," McAvan joked. "He wanted my job!"

Szczybor said his job in the financial field "was fun, it was a great job," but is not the same as his work in indoor soccer.

"You're working with people, you're working with kids and you're giving back," he said. "Hopefully, we've done things over the years that have helped kids become good adults."

Szczybor, who grew up in Baltimore and lives in Harford County, played soccer as a child and then at Archbishop Curley High School in the city and then at Loyola College in Baltimore, where he was a member of the 1976 NCAA Division II Champion team. He also played on community soccer teams as an adult.

He and McAvan have been friends since the early '80s.

"Literally, Bobby's one of the best players I've ever played with," he said.

Szczybor said the arena is the oldest privately-owned indoor soccer facility in Maryland. He and McAvan do not have plans to expand beyond their Edgewood location, however.

"We like to be hands-on, and it would be very tough to be in two places at once," McAvan said.

Szczybor said "we would have to change our entire business mix" if they expanded.

"It's experience," McAvan continued. "It's knowing what you feel works, you're able to find solutions rather than look for excuses. We pretty much come here knowing the recipe and making things happen."

Visit http://www.marylandsportsarena.com for more information, or call 410-538-7300.

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