Field upkeep needs mean you'll pay more to play in '03

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

January 19, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

PLAYING ANY kind of ball on fields operated by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks will cost double or more this year.

The department, which has been struggling in recent seasons to maintain acceptable playing surfaces in the face of extended drought and heavy use, has notified youth and adult organizations of a price increase.

It is raising the hourly fee per team to $6, up from $3, for baseball and softball diamonds at all county parks. Soccer, lacrosse and football groups will be required to pay $10 an hour, up from $4, for "multipurpose" fields.

The lower fees had been held in place for the better part of a decade, since the Ecker administration, said Mike Milani, a sports supervisor who also co- ordinates affairs between community groups and the department.

But if the financially stressed department is to even attempt to satisfy demand for not only space but quality of playing surfaces, he said, it must obtain more money for seed, fertilizer, sod, mowing and all other functions that go with turf management. Tax dollars support only staff, none of the rest.

"We've got to pay for whatever needs to be done, and the way things are these days, we can't even afford to line fields for the $4 fee," Milani said. "We're not making a profit, but we have bills to pay. We've been talking about the idea for six months, and for the most part, the groups are willing to go along.

"Most have the ability to pay the extra money, and given the option of doing some of their own maintenance, such as lining fields, they opted for us to provide the service and to pay the higher fees."

He said how much per player organizations would have to increase fees would vary by organization. But it probably would be no more than a couple of dollars per player per season, he said.

Milani said the objective is to improve maintenance at all facilities. On multipurpose fields, which get torn up by cleats and what amounts to daily use from about April 15 until Nov. 15, the department is using several more "blankets" to foster turf growth this winter.

Two such blankets, used widely by professional teams and many colleges, proved a successful experiment last winter. A turf blanket is a light-weight tarpaulin that is spread over seeded or sodded turf to provide temperature control during extreme cold weather.

The new fee schedule keeps the county parks department in line with other regional agencies that also have to be largely self-supporting, Milani said. In Howard County, the rec department charges, but the school system - which has far more ball fields of every description in use by, especially, youth groups - does not.

Two soccer surprises

Columbia's Dave Procida has been in the news regularly for much of the past year, serving his first term as president of the Soccer Association of Columbia/ Howard County and leading the club's effort to get county and public approvals for Covenant Park.

But Procida got a surprise during last weekend's Maryland State Youth Soccer Association winter workshop at Towson University. He was named the state's youth Coach of the Year - an honor given more for his on-field performance.

He was one of two SAC/HC volunteers given statewide recognition. Columbian Marilyn Duff, who manages an under-12 girls premier travel team, was honored, as well, as Parent of the Year by the state group. The Maryland organization provides linkage of local groups with one another as well as with the governing U.S. Youth Soccer Association and U.S. Soccer Federation.

Procida, in addition to leading the second-largest youth soccer group in Maryland, has been an active coach for several years of what is now an under-12 boys team that plays, quite successfully, in the highly competitive National Capital Soccer League's Division I for Premier-level teams.

He is proud of the team, which he said has the same core of players it started with in travel ball, at the lower Classic level.

"It was neat, and I was completely surprised," Procida said. "It's quite an honor not only for me but also for the club."

The coaching award is named for Donald I. Minnegan, a longtime Towson University soccer coach and athletic director who died at age 99 last year. The common trait among Minnegan Award winners, said MYSA, "is that they have made a difference with their players, helping instill a lifelong love of soccer and promoting personal growth and sportsmanship."

Procida started humbly in coaching - as an assistant coach of a clinic team for 5-year-olds. "I'm a product of SAC/HC," he said. He now holds a C-level coaching license, itself a nice accomplishment.

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

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