Backers of amateur sports fumble by not showing at budget meeting

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

March 18, 2001|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

SOME ENCOURAGING news, tempered by some bad news, and an opinion, from the county budgetary front as it relates to amateur sports here:

Good news first.

Gary J. Arthur, who directs the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, says he thinks his department will be able to proceed as planned in the fiscal year that begins July 1 on the new Western Regional and Meadowbrook parks in, respectively, Glenwood and at U.S. 29 and Route 100 in Ellicott City.

"We'll have to sharpen our pencils when we get to design," he said. But playing fields in both those parks, already in planning stages, seem likely to come into use as scheduled, which is critical to outdoor sports programs in the western county.

And Arthur says he thinks the department will be able to put synthetic turf on Rockburn Branch Park's side-by-side football-soccer-lacrosse fields, which have developed a reputation for being unable to sustain grass because of drought, combined with unavoidably heavy use.

Money for that work will come from fees the department charges to play there, so government borrowing won't be necessary.

Bad news. Arthur says planning for recreational facilities likely will be slowed, yet again. There are no timetables and no exact projects, because the county's operating and construction budgets are being finalized.

But County Executive James N. Robey, Arthur said, "has told me it could be a tough funding year for our budget, because revenue for the coming [fiscal] year and the one after that isn't coming through."

He added, "And people in the county have said what they want their priority to be - schools."

Last week's annual public venting session for Robey's benefit on county budget proposals was packed, literally, by school proponents, which was smart and good.

But bothersome it was that no input - none - came from those in amateur sports in this county. Given that every youth sports program in this county is absolutely reliant on county-school fields and gyms and, to a lesser extent, rec and parks operations, the lack of political awareness or energy those groups show at this time of year is, some might say, flat-out dismaying.

Pragmatically put, folks, you complain all the time about penurious maintenance and shortages of fields and gyms.

But you make it difficult for politicians and public administrators to respond to your needs when you don't show up at crunch time.

Swim dad honored

A fatal heart attack in remote Azerbaijan in July could have the beneficial effect of helping several Columbia Clippers swimmers with college expenses, starting this fall. If all goes as planned, it also will foster more minority participation in the sport locally.

The connection is to the late John C. Clegg, a Columbia swimming dad who died of a heart attack during his fourth trip last year related to creating a wireless phone system in the nation on the Caspian Sea, between Russia and Iran. He was 52.

After his death, his widow, Eileen, and son, Andrew, a Wilde Lake High senior and Columbia Clippers swimmer, chose to do something at the community level to perpetuate his memory.

That something is a new scholarship fund that, initially, Mrs. Clegg said, will cover college book expenses this fall for as many as five freshmen who have been loyal to the Clippers, the Columbia Association-related swim club, throughout their high school years.

If the fund being administered through the Columbia Foundation grows enough, she said, the additional money will underwrite Clipper participation for minority swimmers.

"It helps with the healing," said Mrs. Clegg, a Columbia resident since employment brought her and her husband here in 1975 from New York. "It's a positive way to keep his values alive. ... "

Her husband, she said, began supporting the Clippers when Andrew started swimming.

"He was a volunteer," she said. "He ran kids around, helped out at meets, kept scores and times, put together the club's first Web page - that kind of thing."

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the John C. Clegg Scholarship Fund, through the Columbia Foundation. Club swimmers interested in the scholarship have until April 30 to apply. Check with coach Ken Spencer.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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