Getting youth sports programs to work together

Efforts may finally result in meetings this month

Howard At Play

January 04, 2004|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Two separate attempts to once again bring leaders of the various youth sports groups in Howard County together in a continuing way - a task that has proved undoable for more than two decades - seem likely to take place this month.

One is a recast attempt by the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the other is a push initiated early last summer by David Procida, president of the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, by far the largest of all the county's youth sports groups.

The rec department's effort is 2 years old - but without a meeting involving anyone from the youth groups. An initial invitation for leaders to meet last month was scratched by the department because of a conflict in dates with a county government hearing, said Gary J. Arthur, the department's director.

Procida's initiative, which among other things includes innovative ideas of using county-owned land for new, dedicated playing fields and possibly other facilities, attracted leaders from a number of groups to several meetings.

But the work seemed to fade last fall when he took over coaching Wilde Lake High's girls soccer team in addition to SAC/HC duties and his work, and other leaders became engrossed in their respective programs.

As of last week, neither Arthur nor Procida had set a date, but both said they want sessions to occur this month.

And while some of the ideas espoused by both seem to overlap, both men said in separate interviews last week they regard the desired talks as being complementary, not competitive.

"We don't mean to compete with Procida's group at all," Arthur said. "But we are hoping to gain input from the various youth organizations and to be more pro-active in dealing with the issues of the day."

Said Procida: "I'd welcome any pro-active movement by the county to help youth sports. We want to meet again to talk about what our goals are. We have to figure out a realistic way to structure this, but what I see as possible is going to be a positive force for years to come - not just for the people involved right now."

Arthur said he would like to see a subcommittee of the Advisory Board on Recreation and Parks established that would focus specifically on issues involved in youth sports, including fields, scheduling the use of fields, liaison with the Department of Education over playing facilities on which most youth clubs rely, teaching coaches and screening coaching applicants for police records.

Such an advisory group, Arthur said, would function similarly to the agency's golf committee, also a sub-group of the politically appointed Advisory Board.

That advisory group, however, has no power under the county charter; it exists simply to air issues and advise the rec department and the county executive on matters involving recreation and parks.

The golf subcommittee was instrumental some years ago in getting the county-owned Timbers at Troy golf course built, but fell short a couple of years ago in lobbying for another course in West Friendship.

Only two of the seven Advisory Board on Recreation and Parks members have significant experience in youth sports; the others have little or none, and that board also has had little, if any, effect on facilities specifically for youth programs in recent years. Arthur points out that the county once had a youth sports alliance, but that existed only for a couple of years in the late 1970s.

Procida got the attention of youth group peers by broaching the idea of setting up an independent sports authority in the county that would contract to build facilities on county-owned land and then manage those facilities, which would be bank-rolled by the various groups.

The idea is to reduce or eliminate the cost of buying land, easily the most expensive element in any organization's plans, and Arthur reiterated last week that his agency is willing to listen to proposals from the private sector. Such arrangements exist in other places in Maryland, most closely in neighboring Prince George's County, and in the nation.

Of all Howard County's youth sports groups, only SAC/HC has been able to buy land for its own facilities - Covenant Park, which is scheduled to open in the spring off Centennial Lane near Centennial Park's entrance.

Buying that land took a decade of saving money from fees by the soccer club. The club also worked a separate deal for three new fields at Howard Community College.

But at least two other youth soccer clubs, as well as the Howard Huskies hockey group, the Howard County Youth Program and the Howard County Tennis Association, have in the past year talked publicly of being interested in building their own facilities.

All have growing enrollments, and each notes the difficulties that local government - faced with budget problems - has in getting more or new facilities built anytime soon.

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