Some city teams frozen out as field-use dispute heats up

ADs, coaches say they were told by parks and rec that fields were off-limits

High Schools

March 25, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

A dispute over field use and maintenance between the Baltimore City Schools athletics department and the city's Department of Recreation and Parks left some baseball and softball teams without use of their home fields earlier this week.

Athletic directors and some coaches at Carver, Southern, Digital Harbor and Samuel L. Banks, which rely in varying degrees on recreation and parks fields during the spring, were told Monday or Tuesday that they could no longer practice or play on those fields.

Carver athletic director Greg Warren and his peers Chris Vaccaro at Digital Harbor and Carol Ansell at Samuel L. Banks said they received phone calls telling them the fields were off-limits. At least two baseball coaches were told in person at the field.

Both sides plan to meet this morning to iron out their differences and finalize an agreement, called a "memorandum of understanding," or MOU, said Vanessa C. Pyatt, city schools spokeswoman.

Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for city schools, would not comment, referring all inquiries to Pyatt's office.

A draft of the MOU, initiated by the parks department, has been under review since last summer, said Pyatt.

"The memorandum will address shared use of the fields and shared maintenance," she said.

Pyatt said there never has been a "formalized agreement" between the two departments spelling out arrangements and responsibilities for use of the city's athletics facilities.

This week, several teams, mostly baseball teams, were not allowed to play or practice at city parks, including Swann Park, Leon Day Park and Druid Hill Park, which are home baseball fields for Southern, Carver and Douglass, respectively.

Those and several other city high schools have campuses too small to support fields for all of their sports. For example, Southern and Digital Harbor, which will merge into one school - Digital Harbor - in the fall, have seven of their eight spring teams playing on parks department fields and courts, said Vaccaro.

Vaccaro, Warren and Ansell said they were given no reason for the change.

Officials in the city's recreation and parks department declined to answer specific questions.

"We're sorry that there was ever any miscommunication in the first place. We're especially sorry that any athletic practices and/or games were affected," said a statement released through Robert Greene, director of marketing and media relations for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.

City parks chief Connie Brown was attending a seminar yesterday and was unavailable for comment.

However, Carver baseball coach Terry Thomas said Brown approached him and Douglass baseball coach John Robinson at Tuesday's game at Druid Hill Park. Brown told them they should not be playing until the MOU was resolved, said Thomas.

A coach since 1988, Thomas said he informed Brown that his team has played at Druid Hill Park all those years.

"[Brown] said he wants to resolve the MOU because he did not want to go through each principal to negotiate the use of each field. I explained that each school has activities and if [the parks department] had carte blanche, that would disrupt the school children."

As of yesterday, Pyatt said: "It is our expectation that as that MOU is being finalized, our teams will continue to use the three fields in question."

However, yesterday afternoon, athletic directors and/or coaches at the schools that had been using those three fields - Swann Park, Leon Day Park and the field at Samuel L. Banks High School - said they were not aware that they could resume use of the fields.

Ansell, the only athletic director being denied the use of a field on her own campus, said she got a call from Wade at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

"We had been practicing on that field until [Tuesday]," said Ansell. "Our baseball game was canceled because rec and parks would not allow us to be on the field."

Vacarro, also the varsity baseball coach for Southern, went ahead with his baseball game vs. Mervo at Swann Park on Monday because he had heard nothing from Wade's office.

"About 2:30, the kids were boarding the bus to go to the game and I get a phone call from parks and rec saying we could not use Swann Park. I didn't know who the person was," said Vacarro. "We had already spent money to get the bus. Mervo showed up and we played the game."

Since then, however, no one has been on the field at Swann Park, although Vaccaro said yesterday he still didn't know why.

Losing the use of their athletic fields, even if only temporarily, has been frustrating for athletic directors who have already dealt with a school year full of transportation and financial problems.

"The kids are the ones being deprived," said Ansell. "Our kids were so frustrated when they found out they weren't going to have a game [Tuesday].

"As a coach, you have to find a way to make it positive."

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