Teacher. Coach. Grandfather. Friend. President of Steen Sports Park.
These are just some of the many hats Dave Steen has worn over the years. Sometimes the roles have mixed, bled into one another to create something new, to impact someone, or a whole community, in a new way.
Now that Steen is retiring from his role as president of Steen Sports Park, his role shifts again, but not entirely — to create, again, something new.
It all started about 30 years ago when Steen was sitting in his office at Klamath Union High School, where he taught physical education and health, coached baseball, football, and even volleyball for a short stint (though he said we don’t talk about that), and eventually became the department chair at the school.
He taught in Klamath Falls for over 30 years.
Back in the 1980s, Steen dreamed of a facility that people, families and children in Klamath Falls could utilize to be active and involved, a place that could serve everyone.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had one central location for families to go drop their kids off for activities,” he said he thought at the time.
Now Steen sits in his office next to the batting cages at his dream-come-to-fruition.
A signed Jeremy Guthrie jersey hangs on the wall, a 2003 USSSA World Series qualifier 13UAAA third-place plaque and pictures of his son and two granddaughters sit in on the shelf hanging above his desk.
In the back room, adjoined to his office, a sign is taped to what looks like a first-aid cabinet:
“The Klamath County Sports Complex (the park’s former name) is a family-oriented facility dedicated to promoting physical health and fitness in a safe, attractive environment.”
It’s the complex’s motto — and Steen’s long-time dream for what could be.
The park wasn’t always named Steen Sports Park and, if it was up to Steen, that name wouldn’t hang above the complex’ entrance off Foothills Boulevard.
“That’s not the type of thing that I do. I don’t do things to be in the limelight,” he said, rolling his eyes when asked about the park’s name. “I don’t do things to put my name out there.
“That’s not what this is about. This is about community, about kids. I just happen to be fortunate enough to work with a number of people who helped get this park where it’s at.”
It even took him several months to drive under the arch with the park’s name, opting instead to come in and out the back gate.
Steen is adamant in insisting the park and its very existence are about more than him. He tries to list the names of donors and supporters, all the thousands of people, he said, who helped make Steen Sports Park a reality.
But you don’t just get a park named after yourself for no reason.
You must play a fundamental role in the creation of the thing, either financially or posthumously through the impact of your life, or in Steen’s case, the determination to push for what you believe in.
Steen finally got some traction with other people in town who had a similar idea, but they struggled at first to get donors and support.
He said people would laugh at him when he’d pitch the plans for his park.
“No, that’s not going to happen in Klamath Falls,” he said they’d tell him.
The fact that it did is thanks, in large part, to the work Steen did.
“Somehow he got a lot of different people interested in contributing time, money, special work,” Keith Read, one of the park’s original supporters and a member of the founding board, said.
“He believes very strongly in good things for the youth of the community, and I think that’s where the passion is.”
In 2001, the park finally broke ground, and 18 years later Steen’s Dream has amounted to a world-class facility with four outdoor soccer fields (including the lighted Trevor Derrah Field), seven baseball and softball fields, a collegiate-size baseball field (Leo J. Bocchi Field), an indoor sports facility, Mike’s Fieldhouse and a skatepark, to name a few.
“You go up on the hill and just look, and this has happened a couple times. I go up there and just look,” he said. “Seven ball fields full, skate park full, soccer fields full — 4–5,000 people here. There’s no place in the summer that can say they have 3–4,000 people every week.”
He said he gets choked up at the thought of it.
The complex serves 80,000 to 85,000 people a year and is the largest privately-funded, multi-purpose sports park in the western United States (west of Colorado), according to Steen.
“His name is synonymous with not just baseball, because that’s his first love, but with sports in general and more specifically with introducing kids to athletics,” Debbie Vought, formerly a member of the board and a friend of Steen’s for 20 years, said.
“I don’t think you can overstate his impact in the Basin. He loves kids and loves for kids to be outdoors and participating in sports because of all that it can teach them about teamwork.”
“He’s probably one of the top five most influential people that I’ve known since I’ve been here in 20 years,” she continued.
Now, the beloved coach and advocate is taking a step back, not a complete retirement, but a reprieve from the 10- to 12-hour days that come with the daily maintenance of such a huge complex.
For 20 years, he’s worked 60-hour weeks and before that was eight years of planning and dreaming about bringing a space like this to the Klamath Falls community.
He’s now 76, and though he says he doesn’t feel old, he thinks it’s time for someone else to step into that maintenance role.
“I feel like I’ve got another 20 years left, as far as doing this, but you never know at this time what’s going to happen and there has to be someone here,” he said.
“If I want to take off and go visit my granddaughters or go to the coast or take my son and go fishing or my brother-in-law, then that would be a tremendous thing that way there’s somebody here. I don’t have to be concerned about what’s going on here.”
Steen will continue to teach private lessons, will be on the board, help work and organize tournaments and fundraise for the park.
“My biggest hope for Dave is that he can learn how to slow down,” Vought said. “Really, what I hope he gets to do is spend a lot of time with family and his grandkids.”
“I know Dave would sacrifice everything he has for (this community) because he has. He’s given so much of his life and his money and his time and his good health to the kids of this community. I hope they understand how much sacrifice he made and how much went in to those sacrifices.”