Talking over youth sports

Summit: Leaders from Howard's youth sports groups will meet Wednesday to discuss mutual concerns.

Howard At Play

April 13, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

David Procida's emergence as president of the 6,000-player Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County began about 15 months ago with unexpected contention and lawsuit-laced delays in getting government approval for the club's new, 10-field Covenant Park.

From the start of his tenure atop the county's largest youth organization, though, Procida, 47, has shown the creativity and energy older club leaders were hoping for from a new, younger generation of leadership.

Construction on Covenant Park starts soon, thanks to a settlement Procida helped shape and contracts he helped negotiate. He worked a separate deal with Howard Community College, upgrading three fields there for exclusive use by SAC/HC when the college doesn't need them. And for this Wednesday, he has invited leaders from other youth sports groups in the county to begin exploring mutual needs and concerns, hoping to break more ground - figuratively and literally.

The gathering will be the first of its kind in at least a decade in Howard County, despite unsuccessful efforts by others to pull such a "summit" together. So we asked Procida - who describes his work as "entrepreneur in commercial construction," in addition to his SAC/HC volunteer work as leader and boys travel-team coach - to talk about some topics likely to be broached. Excerpts:

Why such a forum?

"I don't know of any other endeavor, whether it's in business or other aspects of life, except for youth sports, where there isn't a common body for leaders to share ideas and talk about subjects of mutual interest. We don't compete with one another as clubs. We're all nonprofit organizations, regardless of the sport, with the same mission of teaching kids. There's no reason not to share ideas.

"If we walk out Wednesday night with mutual respect, reasons to follow up on some things, then the meeting will be a good thing. And I'm pretty certain we're going to identify some things to work on."

County government

"We cannot look to county government to help much with the facilities that all the clubs will need. The county - and I'm talking about the rec department and the school system - has been pretty much stripped of all money for recreational budgeting, even maintaining what facilities there are now.

"That means if anything's going to change, we're going to have to look to helping ourselves.

"But the county has one thing that all the clubs can use, and that's land. There's undeveloped park land, and not just the farm near the fairgrounds in West Friendship that's been in the news recently. There's also unused acreage at a number of schools. But there's no money to do anything with it."

Playing fields

While Procida thinks topics such as training coaches, raising money, insurance, parental conduct on the sidelines, policies for screening out pedophiles, finding and teaching officials and nurturing volunteers should be broached Wednesday, he also thinks fields will get the most attention.

"The biggest running issue here is fields - the condition of them, the availability of them, how they're booked, how permits are issued. The way things are now, sometimes it's a mess, and because of our club's size, we're part of all that, too.

"Even though we're now building our own complex, that's not going to solve our field needs and problems. Our club is still growing - by almost 10 percent in registrations for just this spring. And other groups are growing, too - other soccer groups, lacrosse, football, baseball. So fields are going to remain a problem for all of us.

"But there may be other ideas out there about what to do, and now that we know what our own costs for Covenant Park will be, we also can figure out what we can afford on more fields. We know we can afford more and need to do more, but just throwing money at the issue isn't the answer for any of us."

Banding together

"First, it's important to emphasize that none of the groups has to lose any autonomy if we decide to find ways of working together. I know some of the smaller groups, especially, may be worried about that. But we could find ways to work together that would let each club just keep on doing what it's doing.

"What if we were to figure out how much money we could generate together and go to the county with a proposal to spend it for new fields on some of that land? All of the clubs are capable of generating money for that; that's Business 101. We know that from our own experience. But the killer financially for the clubs - it almost did us in, too - is the cost of land in the county, even if you can find land that's available."

Procida said such an arrangement, which would have to be countywide in nature for availability as well as backing, could be managed through an authority given responsibility for maintaining and booking the facilities. Money from user clubs would support the authority.

"That kind of setup, I'm told, is unprecedented in recreation, but I don't see why it couldn't work. I can even see a private vendor being interested, under the right setup, in building and operating a gym or indoor facility for basketball, volleyball - all the sports that need such a facility."

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