Mission of this page: to cover games people play in Howard

Howard At Play

March 05, 2000|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

WELCOME to Howard at Play, which will be part of this section each Sunday from now on. Our mission is to reflect a wonderfully rich element of Howard County's quality of life -- what people do in their spare time as it involves athletic activity of any description, team or individual.

As time passes, expect this space to touch every such county organization -- betcha there are more than you think -- and every activity, ranging from fitness to youth sports, to the adults who not only administer for kids but also play in an array of ways that may surprise you. We'll be writing far less about scores than about people, issues, and matters relevant to competition.

So you have some idea of who's orchestrating this page, I'm part of The Sun's Sports Department, splitting my hours between writing and editing copy after spending most of my 29 years in newspapers reporting, editing and managing metro news.

My Howard County perspective comes from having lived, minus a two-year detour to Tidewater Virginia, in Columbia since 1970, when U.S. 29 was a two-lane road and some contended that adding a recreation department to county government was frivolous.

Growing up, my kids picked up some formative experiences in youth soccer, baseball, a bit of swimming, as well as lacrosse and basketball. The fold-up rocking chair that about a decade ago -- it doesn't seem that long ago -- accompanied me to more Soccer Association of Columbia and National Capital Soccer League games than I can remember is still in my car's trunk.

Diamond titles in the rough

All-star teams from three age brackets in each of the county's six youth baseball organizations will play for a county championship for the first time this summer.

Mike Milani, one of several rec department coordinators, got representatives from the Atholton Youth Recreation Association, the Columbia Youth Baseball Association, the Elkridge Youth Organization, the Howard County Youth Program, the Savage Boys and Girls Club, and Western County Baseball to agree on the tournament for recreation-level leagues in the 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 age brackets.

The meeting was something of a first, Milani said, in that leaders in the groups "don't really know one another." He's hoping the alliance can continue meeting periodically to discuss common interests, not the least of which is fields.

"We're looking for sponsors for the tournament," added Milani, who hopes to add county title-play for softball and travel baseball teams next summer.

Conversation fodder

A couple factoids about recreation in Howard County that maybe you've not heard:

Something approaching 25,000 young people, from 5- and 6-year-olds in soccer clinics or tee-ball to high-school age athletes not part of JV and varsity school programs, are participating this year on Howard County's fields and gyms. The exact number is hard to pin down because so many kids take part in two or more sports during a year.

The best guess-timate is that 10,000 adults -- that figure is quite likely low -- will compete in county leagues for basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, soccer, football and lacrosse. That doesn't even count those who regularly play golf and tennis, or who run, or compete in martial arts, or any other athletic activity.

The county rec department counts 620 adult teams in all sports in the course of a year -- and it's not the only show in the county.

As Al Harden, manager of the county recreation department's sports coordinators, puts it: "Sports is big here."

Also noted

Cup draw: Today's the day travel soccer teams learn their opponents for Maryland State Cup competition, an annual statewide tournament in addition to league play that, at the older levels, produces bona fide national champion club teams -- which has happened for several Columbia teams.

Preliminary games are scheduled for April 8, with round-robin play April 29 and 30 and finals June 3 -- all subject to weather. More later.

Moving on: Hanover's Dave Skalski, a longtime county youth soccer coach, first in the Soccer Association of Columbia and more recently with the newer, much smaller Elkridge Youth Organization, has moved to Lancaster, Pa., to pursue a job opportunity.

"I've been coaching since I was 15," said Skalski, who saw the newish, tiny EYO soccer program grow from about 125 kids to an expected 500 this fall. His successor is Ken Jester, also of Hanover.

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