Planned roller-hockey rink brings to mind other sports

Howard At Play

March 03, 2002

A NEWS release a couple of weeks ago from Project Open Space in Annapolis announced three more state-government grants for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

Routine stuff, really, grinding the long-ago reported process another notch toward completion of three projects much needed here: Western Regional and Meadowbrook parks and the purchase of more ball-field acres in Elkridge.

But deep down, the release referred to bucks that are earmarked for Meadowbrook - to be developed off the southeast corner of Route 100 and U.S. 29 in Ellicott City - being applied in part to an indoor arena.

Whoa. Now it's possible, maybe likely, that we weren't paying attention, but what indoor arena? Was government heading where private enterprise fears to tread here, as in coming up with, say, an indoor facility to house soccer, lacrosse and other activities?

Unlikely, but don't you know, without an indoor facility here, a lot of rental and concession money flows daily from here to indoor facilities in Baltimore and Baltimore and Carroll counties?

Everybody knows about indoor soccer, but did you also know that the Howard County Lacrosse Program sent 11 teams - 11! - to compete indoors at the Perring Athletic Club in Northeast Baltimore and to Owings Mills late last fall and early winter?

The Columbia-Ellicott City area alone has 6,000 youth soccer players; another 2,000 play in the west county. The lacrosse program has something like 1,700 players, and we haven't even mentioned basketball, baseball (which has a few coaches working indoors over in Anne Arundel County) ...

... but, as ye olde scribes used to write, we digress.

We thought the only structure at Meadowbrook, which nearby residents fought vociferously more than two years ago, was to be a covered, open-air roller-hockey rink. That's the last this paper reported, anyway.

So, what's up? we asked rec and parks Director Gary J. Arthur.

A change in plans, he said, after talks with the community.

Enclosing the rink will keep down the noise and the lights the residents are concerned about, he explained. So that structure is being planned as a metal, warehouse-type building. The department's intent, he said, is still to house the roller-hockey rink, which will be its second (the first is roofless at Alpha Ridge Park in Marriottsville).

And, Arthur added, his people are calling it not a "hockey rink" but a "multiuse facility."

But roller hockey - adult and youth followers of which number in the hundreds, albeit with only that one rink to use - has dibs on the concrete floor it needs.

"We're really maxed out in terms of hockey," Arthur said. "Alpha Ridge is booked solid from April until early November, but we believe there's a need to be filled. It's a sport we see as continuing to grow.

"We also can use such a building for our summer camp program," he continued. "Having one place to transport kids when it rains or storms would be a godsend for our staff."

Under questioning, Arthur and a couple of others on his staff acknowledged to having noodled the costs and logistics of adding "carpet" (synthetic turf) to that multi-use building. The structure, budget gods willing, won't be ready until something like 2004 or 2005 even though the first dirt in Meadowbrook's development should be bulldozed this summer.

"Would the department, indeed, consider an indoor arena for soccer and lacrosse?" Arthur was asked.

"I don't think we have that kind of capability, but we'd be very interested," he said. "We've been approached by entrepreneurs about, say, if we could provide the land, they could do the building - that kind of thing. But it's a lot of money, and because we're government, we have some restrictions to live with that make things harder. So, nothing has worked out."

What's tantalizing here (besides Meadowbrook's incredibly central location) is that, like many rec departments, Howard County's operates with more of a business owner's mind than typical government agencies do. Because its public budget is so constricted, the department has to generate revenue to support its programs, if not facilities, through fees.

Roller-hockey parents and adult players, as the relevant example here, will pay the operational expenses of that "multiuse facility."

But - just a thought - doesn't anyone think soccer and lacrosse and baseball and other sports-minded parents and adult players might be willing to do the same?

Happy anniversary

Today marks the Howard at Play page's second anniversary. As we did a year ago, we counted back 52 issues to see how many sports (and sub-sports) involving Howard County residents our coverage has touched on.

Last March, that total was 35. Darts, skiing, fencing, horseshoes, duathlon, barrel racing, etc. Raise that running tally to 49 today - 50 if we leap ahead and include Thai boxing.

We welcome suggestions for articles - interesting topics, teams, coaches, players, youth or adult. Don't be shy. Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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