By Kyle LoJacono
Each year thousands of children, parents and friends pile into Oscar Cooler Sports Complex to watch youth athletics. All those people walk by the park’s sign, including Oscar Cooler himself.
Cooler, 81, has lived in Lutz since 1963 and was instrumental in bringing the first version of the park to Lutz in 1975.
“I think kids need to have a safe place to learn about teamwork,” Cooler said. “That’s why I worked to get the first park built all that time ago.
“If kids don’t have something like this then they usually get into a lot of things they shouldn’t be doing,” Oscar continued. “I think the most important thing for a community are its athletic fields for the kids. I’d say the park has helped keep thousands of kids, if not millions of kids, off the streets.”
Now the current park will be 33 acres larger after the grand opening of the $3.9 million expansion at 9 a.m. Aug. 14.
“That’s great that the new part of the park is opening,” Cooler said. “Now we can get more kids into our programs.”
Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department spokesman John Brill said the expansion will allow more than 500 additional athletes to participate in sports programs at the park. A future project will improve the existing football and baseball facilities as well as adding more parking.
Hillsborough County bought the land for the expansion five years ago and construction began last September. The expansion adds several new fields, facilities and parking spaces to the facility.
The park, located along W. Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Crooked Lane in Lutz, opens just in time for the Lutz Chiefs youth football season. The Chiefs’ first home game is Aug. 28.
“All the construction has been done for more than a month now, but we are now opening the expansion to the public,” said Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department spokesman John Brill. “(Hillsborough) County added a football game field and several other practice fields for football and soccer.”
The Chiefs joined the Tampa Bay Youth Football League (TBYFL) for this season.
“It’s going to be one of the best field locations in our league,” said TBYFL president Scott Levenson. “The county really went above and beyond making the park a great place for youth football and cheerleading.”
Also part of the expansion was adding a soccer game field for the first time. The new soccer program is called FC Tampa Lutz Rangers, which will have competitive and recreational soccer for children ages 4-18.
The park was originally built in 1975 and had three baseball fields only. Before it was built, the area was mainly orange groves. Lutz resident Oscar Cooler, 81, was one of the key people in getting the first park built. He and worked for about two years to convince the county to buy the land and build the park.
Brill did not know when the park was renamed after Cooler, but said it was given the name because, “He was a major player is getting the original park put in the area as a place for the Lutz community kids to play.”
Cooler has been a big supporter of the youth sports programs at the park during the last 35 years. He was the Lutz Little League president for 15 years and still goes to the games when he can.
Cooler continued by saying he wished he had a park like the complex while he was growing up. He said after the county bought the land more than three decades ago he got local people to volunteer to do as much of the building as possible. This allowed the first park to open much sooner than was originally anticipated.
Brill said he has invited Oscar to the opening of the expansion, but does not know if he will make it for the ribbon cutting. Oscar himself said he would like to if he has the energy.
The event is free and open to the public. Those in attendance will get to see the Chiefs’ players and cheerleaders practice for the first time on their new fields after the grand opening.
If you go
What: Oscar Cooler Sports Complex grand opening
Where: 19045 Crooked Lane in Lutz
When: 9 a.m. Aug. 14