Inside the Clarence Du Burns Arena, one of the Baltimore area's premier soccer facilities, 9-year-old Matthew Wilson's eyes lock on the ball in front of him. His arms and legs twitch in anticipation of scoring.
Young Matthew tunes out the faint din of cheering parents, and with lightning-fast speed catapults the ball toward the goal. He scores. Lights flash and bells ring.
Matthew looks over at his buddy as the soccer pinball machine quiets down and says, "You got another quarter? I want to play again."
The days when parents sent their children to city recreation centers to sweat, run, jump and learn sports skills have given way to the video age: The city recreation department is expanding a pilot program that will put 20 video and pinball machines in recreation centers.
The plan is upsetting some parents, and even sparking some concern from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"When I send my child to a rec center during the summer, I don't want him asking me for quarters so he can play video games," said Canton resident Marion Hare, whose son plays soccer at the local arena, named for former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns. "I want him to learn to actually play a sport."
Desperate for cash, the city's recreation department has been forced to come up with money-making measures that will supplement a budget that has been cut to the bone by the mayor.
So far, video games at the arena in Canton and the Myers Soccer Pavilion in Brooklyn have been a cash cow for the city, bringing in nearly $1,000 a month. Recreation officials said that money will go back into the department's coffers.
Recreation officials have said they have not ruled out expanding the program to place video arcades in neighborhood centers.
That possibility has upset DeNeen Peters, a parent of two children in West Baltimore who go to the city's neighborhood recreation centers.
"I think they [recreation and city officials] are giving up too fast," Peters said. "It is easy to entertain kids with video games, but they should be working to pull kids away from the video age and get them to enjoy real sports."
Tom Foreman, the recreation department's supervisor for youth and adult sports, said the department is not giving up on sports, and if it appears that video games are replacing active games, the video games will be removed.
Mayor is concerned
"We look at this as an opportunity to complement," Foreman said. "If there is a gross imbalance, then that would be something that would cause us to change."
Schmoke, who approved of the pilot program, said he is concerned that children will use the recreation centers as video game hangouts instead of places to play sports.
"I don't want these places to just be negative hangouts; you want people to be involved in activities," Schmoke said.
Baltimore may be one of the first cities contemplating offering video arcades for children at municipal recreation centers.
Physical action preferred
"It is the first time I have heard of a video arcade within a recreation center, but it depends on how you define recreation center," said Mike Corwin, director of communications at the National Recreation and Park Association, based in Arlington, Va. "We would prefer that kids engage in physical action, but recreation is broader than physical activity."
Parent Dave Mapp, a Baltimore County resident whose two children play soccer at the Du Burns arena at least once a week, said he applauds the city recreation department for adding video games.
He said that the video games give children something else to do while a game is being played at the arena, instead of hanging around the candy and soda machines or getting into trouble kicking soccer balls in the halls.
"It's a long time coming," Mapp said. "It keeps the kids in the building and out of trouble."
Pub Date: 6/09/98