Two new members bring needed sports transfusion to advisory `park board'

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 14, 2001|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

OK! THAT'S more like it. The county's Recreation and Parks Advisory Board has received a transfusion of new blood that quite possibly indicates new interest in amateur sports locally at a political level.

The seven-seat, unpaid board had been short two members since its fiscal 2001-2002 work ended in late spring, one because then-chairman Willa Brooks' term expired, the other because Donald Dunn, a veteran member and golf subcommittee head, resigned. But with a new budgeting cycle about to begin, the two five-year slots were filled, effective Oct. 1, by County Executive James N. Robey.

His appointees are Anthony J. Brudis and David Grabowski.

What is welcome news for anyone interested in any team sport in Howard County is this: Both have experience administering complex, volunteer-run programs -- respectively, the Howard County Youth Program and the Elkridge Youth Organization. Each group provides year-round sports for youth players, boys and girls, including baseball and softball, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

Oddly, such experience and empathy have been nonexistent on the advisory board for years. But issues surrounding amateur sports -- for children, as well as adults -- here are too darned real to continue with, at best, minimalized political priority. The number of players is soaring as the county grows, as are demands for fields and gyms.

Important on another level, Grabowski is an Elkridge guy, born and true. At last, the county's fast-growing but often ignored east side gets a voice on the board.

Grabowski, 47, not only lives in Elkridge and is Elkridge Youth Organization president, he grew up there, has coached several sports for the organization, and remembers playing EYO sports as a kid. He's also president and the one remaining founder of the 20-year-old Elkridge Adult Athletic Association, which pays a lot of loving attention to Rockburn Branch Park.

He has seen the youth organization grow to one serving more than 1,000 families. He knows the impact of budgetary shuffles pushing off planned ball fields at Rockburn and plans for new county property at Troy Hill, off U.S. 1.

"We probably pay as a group about $10,000 in fees a year to Rec and Parks for using fields -- which doesn't include school fields, which are free," Grabowski said. "People here pay taxes, and while I know that budgets are tough, somehow [charging so much for kids to play] just doesn't seem right."

Brudis, 42, an Ellicott City resident, stepped down two years ago after two years as president of the Howard County Youth Program's corporate board. For nearly a decade before that, he rose through the program ranks as a baseball and softball coach with his two sons and daughter, then had a stint as baseball commissioner.

Wanting to expand playing time for a rising number of players, he was a major factor in getting lights for baseball and softball diamonds at the youth program's rec department-owned Kiwanis-Wallas Park.

"I'd like to see more facilities," said Brudis, a civil engineer. "I can't imagine anything worse that telling a kid he or she can't play because we don't have the space."

Amen. Because that day has dawned for several youth organizations here.

But as Rec and Parks director Gary J. Arthur said in discussing the appointments, which he helped foster: "It's hard for the public to realize some of the need for services when they come from a public official. When it comes from the community, it's better."

To be fair to these appointees, let's expect, at minimum, improved, more relevant dialogue about amateur sports here, but not miracles.

For the park board, as some people call it, is not a policy-making body. It hasn't been an advocacy group, either. And in fact, it doesn't deal with the majority of fields and all the gyms used, especially, by county youth groups -- they're school system responsibility. The board functions mainly as a political screen on issues and priorities for the county executive and the sorely underfunded Department of Recreation and Parks.

That disclaimer aside, the advisory board remains the sole forum where issues affecting about 35,000 amateur athletes in Howard County, the majority children, can be debated publicly in a comprehensive way.

Look at it this way: The park board's new appointees are an encouraging sign that someone up there in local government is beginning to pay attention.

Next, let's hope that first-year school board member Patricia S. Gordon, who also sits on the park board, can learn quickly and effectively from, especially, Brudis and Grabowski. In effect, she is the school system's official ears on Rec and Parks issues although her county biography mentions not a hint of rec or parks experience.

Yet Gordon's policymaking school board colleagues need to wake up to the reality that, as indisputably important as academics are, use of school property shouldn't, doesn't, and can't stop at 3 p.m. inside classroom walls.

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

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