JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man known as “Mr. Patton Park” to thousands of soccer players, coaches and parents, Randy Powell, passed away Tuesday night after a battle with leukemia. He was 64.
Powell did everything at Patton Park, the city-owned soccer complex on Hodges Blvd, since it opened in 2000. Powell was the first man hired when the park began operations with a dozen soccer fields. It has served as the home to the youth club Jacksonville FC, and was the practice facility for the Jacksonville Armada from the team’s inception.
Thousands of Jacksonville-area children learned the game of soccer and the lessons the sport teaches on the fields at Patton Park. It was those fields that Powell took great pride in. He would ride from field to field in a golf cart, inspecting each surface to determine which fields needed more care, and which could accommodate the cleats of more young soccer players.
“He was the first guy they hired to come in. We all had a joke about him, that he had a cot in the back and that he lived here because he was the first guy in and the last guy to leave every single day, seven days a week,” said Pat Cannon, the executive director of Jacksonville FC. “The impact that he made on the park, we think it’s the best park in the city. He took pride in the fields. It was his life.”
Even more than the time and attention Powell paid to the fields was the reason he cared so deeply for the facility. He knew the impact that the game of soccer could have on the youth of Jacksonville.
“The bigger piece for me is how many players and families that he’s touched in the soccer community,” Cannon said. “We have thousands of people that come through this park. Can you imagine how many families and players he’s touched? It’s amazing to think everybody that thinks of Patton Park thinks of Randy Powell.
Jacksonville University men’s soccer coach Mauricio Ruiz has spent countless hours at Patton Park. Between his former duties as color analyst on the Armada broadcasts and his job as the Dolphins coach, Ruiz was amazed by Powell’s dedication to his craft.
“His main role was to take care of the quality of the fields at Patton Park, but I don’t think he accepted that as that role,” Ruiz said. “He wanted to impact lives and that’s exactly what he did. I think many kids today, many coaches and parents alike, will remember Randy, whether it was one interaction or worried whether they’re getting yelled at because they’re playing on the same surface for too long, or just a bright smile that he had all the time. So, his impact just came more than just what his job was. It was his place. He was part of the family, not just a guy working at a city-owned facility.”
While players and coaches come and go, Powell was the constant for those who took their kids to practice or play at Patton Park. It was the ultimate expression of taking ownership of a job.
“I’m there recruiting often or there watching games, some of our guys playing summer league. ... and he was always there,” Ruiz said. “Randy was a guy that was always present. He knows everyone, knows everybody by name. Always greets everyone. He was ‘Mr. Patton Park,’ but in many ways, he was ‘Mr. Jacksonville Soccer,’ too.”
Powell’s work was appreciated by visiting teams, too. Cannon said that years after MLS club New York City FC used Patton Park as a winter training facility, the club still remembered Powell’s dedication.
“They heard the news. And they wanted to send Randy’s family as a jersey from them,” Cannon said. “So, I mean, that just shows you right there how much impact he has, and they haven’t been here probably in five, six years.
“There’s a big hole that’s going to be here from him. You can’t replace him. We’ve learned how to operate without him the last few months because he’d been going through some treatment. That’s when you realize how much he actually does. We’ve been in over our heads for sure. We’ll get through this mourning period and then get together as a club and do what’s best in his memory for sure.”