Amateur sports leaders team up for lobbying

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

March 14, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

THAT WAS more like it - that being the rare togetherness displayed last Tuesday night before County Executive James N. Robey by a number of amateur sports leaders in Howard County.

Spokesmen for youth and adult sports groups from Elkridge, Savage and communities in western Howard County told Robey that they support allotting money to the Department of Recreation and Parks for three synthetic fields in two parks and lights for a few fields at the new Western Regional Park in Glenwood.

Whether their appearances - along with a couple of dozen youth players, a few of whom brought signs in support of the proposed projects - will pay off remains to be seen in this difficult financial environment for local government.

But for once, enough representatives from a normally uninterested, often ill-informed, unorganized bloc of people - yes, with a special interest in recreation - put up a common front solid enough to warrant notice at the political level.

Robey said he hasn't even put together his construction budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But he and those before him Tuesday knew that one component - and a relatively small one, at that - involves improved sports facilities.

Robey also heard opposition from several farmers and other landowners on the edges of Western Regional Park. Most repeated old arguments but seemed resigned to accepting the park, which is still in a raw, sometimes troublesome land-development stage.

Now, they're mostly unhappy about the lighting proposal, which would also yield an 11 p.m. closing time for adults. Many challenge the time as being too late.

Their views clash fundamentally from a political perspective with the needs of hundreds of owners of McMansions that have sprung up throughout western Howard County in the past dozen years, most on subdivided former farmland.

From one of those new communities came Joe Markwordt, a father of four from the Ridge View Hunt subdivision, whose statement for Robey essentially summed up the situation many west county parents and youth groups face.

Markwordt coaches soccer, and his children have played football, baseball and basketball.

"I have put hundreds of volunteer hours into many of these programs," he said, "and I have spent many hours stressing because one thing is painfully obvious:

"From Elkridge to Lisbon, we do not have enough fields to accommodate the demand and growth for our sports programs. We are not even close."

He has taken western county players to fields in Columbia to practice, he said, an impingement there as well as an inconvenience for parents.

"As a neighbor to the Western Regional Park and a member of the larger Howard County community, I am willing to endure whatever nuisances, real or imagined, that will allow our children to stay closer to home and to give the other communities a break," Markwordt told Robey.

"I do not think that the lights will in any way harm my property value, nor do I think that they will significantly change the character of the community."

That's good stuff. And there was lots more, as officers of the Savage Boys and Girls Club, the Elkridge Hurricanes youth football club, the Thunder Soccer Club and Western Howard County baseball, softball and soccer clubs made other nicely reasoned points about the benefits and need for public support for facilities.

Next month will be an even more important budget hearing, similar in nature but before the County Council. Here's hoping Tuesday night was not just a one night stand.

Track and field?

No adult-level track and field exists in Howard County, or for that matter, in most of Maryland.

But Chris Selmer, 25, a former Glenelg High runner who is now a Howard County Striders director, wants to change that.

Selmer has a track pedigree: a two-time state high school champ at 800 meters for Glenelg, a triple gold-medal winner in the 1997 state championships and a bunch of county titles before attending McDaniel College, nee Western Maryland.

Now a Web designer at UMBC, Selmer and friends have formed the Maryland Track Club, intend to start practices April 6 in the county and eventually compete with other adult teams.

Eleven prospective members showed up last Tuesday at an organizational gathering, and Selmer has accumulated about 50 names on an e-mail list. You can get in touch by e-mailing him at cmselmer@comcast.net.

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