Belleville training facility opens

Angelica Allen-McMillan shifted her weight to her left, cocked her right leg back and, with a mighty blow, sent the ball hurtling over the soccer net.

The State Commissioner of Education and several Belleville High School soccer players were trying out a piece of equipment specially imported from Europe to hone accuracy and dexterity – and having a great time doing it.

“I am so impressed with this facility,” she said, laughing.

So were State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-29, Board of Education members, local officials, high school athletes, alumni and members of the community who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Belleville Indoor Training Facility on Cortlandt Street.

Superintendent of Schools Richard Tomko led Allen-McMillan and others on a tour of the 25,000-square-foot space in a converted warehouse designed for the district’s high school athletes, as well as those weekend workout warriors throughout the township.

The facility includes a workout room with equipment ranging from a golf driving simulator to chest presses to rowing machines, two wrestling rooms and an all-purpose room with hardwood floors.

But perhaps the centerpiece of the Belleville Indoor Training Facility is a cavernous, carpeted space for soccer training, batting cage sessions, track and field drills, football practice and more. It could even host kids’ birthday parties. Or obstacles may be hung from the exposed rafters and the space could be a training ground for drone enthusiasts, honing their skills.

There’s even a waiting lounge with vending machines for parents to watch TV or work on their laptops while their young athletes play.

Tomko said the cooperation of Belleville Township was crucial, and thanked Councilman Vinny Cozzarelli for suggesting this space as a potential home for a training center.

At its core, the Belleville Indoor Training Facility provides a great, local space for Belleville’s most precious resource – it’s children – to be, well, children.

“Coming out of the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, our school district has focused on the social/emotional wellness of our students,”Tomko said. “We looked around for what we could do for the children in this community, and we thought this training facility would make a huge impact on generations of Buccaneers.”

Or as Ruiz put it, “How wonderful it is now that when it’s colder outside or if it’s raining, you can still do drills inside of a facility that was built specifically for children.”

Board of Education President Luis Muñiz, Vice President Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, and board members Ralph Tunis, Erika Jacho, Frank Velez, Nicole Daddis and Tracy Williams were on hand for the facility’s unveiling, as were Township Council Vice President Thomas Graziano and Councilmembers Naomy De Peña, Steven Rovell and Cozzarelli.

Velez, the board member who serves as the athletic committee’s chairman, said there were tires and car parts strewn about when he and the other board members first toured the warehouse.

“We had no idea that all of this would be reshaped in such a great way,” he said.

Muñiz said the district has received a lot of contributions from Belleville High School alumni and vendors.

The school board is exploring ways to generate revenue, such as offering advertising space on the facility’s walls and collecting dues from sports leagues who want to call the facility home.

Eventually, a schedule will be published on the Board of Education’s website showing when the facility is open for drop-ins and when a portion of it will be occupied.

“The goal is to serve our students and our community first,” Muñiz said. “We know this facility will be popular with, for instance, soccer players in the area. There are very few indoor training venues like this in the area. It’s perfect for Belleville.”

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