School-field fee system gets support at hearing


Howard At Play

December 05, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

LOTS MORE remains to be said, no doubt, but a school board proposal that could lead to charging sports groups for playing on public school fields they now use free got some early support last week.

Leaders of the Howard County Youth Program, the Howard County Lacrosse Program, and the Cindy La Rue Co-Rec Softball League all backed the concept during a hearing conducted by the county's General Assembly delegation.

"My main concern is safety for our players," said Skip McAfee, commissioner of the softball league, which has used diamonds at Wilde Lake Middle and High for years. He and others noted deteriorating conditions at school system-owned fields.

"We think the [school system's] reservation staff deserves more help," said Jack Milani, treasurer of the countywide lacrosse organization. And that is another reason supporters gave for accepting a new expense to club operations.

The school system in recent years has routinely eliminated money earmarked for maintaining its fields. And the staff that processes literally thousands of permits annually for games and practices hasn't expanded for years, while groups, players and facilities have grown not-quite geometrically.

The legislation would change state law to allow the county school system to recover field maintenance and reservation expenses.

But what equitable fees might be, and whether the system would charge them, would be determined in another public process, Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, told legislators.

Only the Savage Boys and Girls Club, which has baseball, softball, soccer, basketball and flag football involving about 2,400 children, opposed the idea.

"We need to be very, very careful [in adding charges parents would have to pay]," said Savage club President Thomas K. Lawler. "We don't want this county to turn into one for the rich. The whole county's not in Clarksville, not in Ellicott City.

"We've got a lot of kids in our program who can't afford to pay ... but we rely heavily on those fields."

Perhaps just as interesting as who spoke out Tuesday night was who did not.

Absentees included the huge Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, large baseball/softball and soccer groups from Western Howard County, the Columbia Youth Baseball Association, the Atholton Youth Recreation Association and the Elkridge Youth Organization.

SAC/HC, of course, has cut back on its use of school fields since opening its own Northrop Fields at Covenant Park in the spring - but still needs fields for practices and its leagues for younger children.

The other groups rely extensively, if not exclusively, on school fields.

Unanimously, though, all who spoke out last week agreed that diamonds and fields maintained by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks are, as a rule, kept in better shape than school facilities. But the rec department charges $12 an hour for all teams that use its facilities.

Along the sidelines

HOCKEY: The Howard Huskies Squirt Blue team, a squad of 9- and 10-year-olds, won Eastern honors at the annual Silver Stick Tournament last weekend in Columbia, advancing to play in Canada next month.

Many on coach Roy Tarash's team will be making their second straight trip to the North American round, having finished as runner-up in play in Canada last season.

Sixty-six age-group teams from New York to South Carolina competed locally, hoping to get to Sarnia, Ontario, for the final round Jan. 14-16. Teams will play a minimum of four games in Canada, said Huskies spokesman Bud Michel.

The Huskies advanced in a thrilling championship game, defeating the Impact Northstars, 3-2, on Eliot Tarash's unassisted goal with 16 seconds left in overtime. Eliot scored the Huskies first goal, too, and Bradley Benson scored the other. Goalie Jonathan Hudson made 13 saves.

SOCCER: A Baltimore Bays under-15 soccer team with eight Howard County high school players finished third last month in the United Soccer Leagues' Super-Y League national tournament in Orlando, Fla.

The county players are Kris Elliott, Kathryn Lally and Mary Kate Morani (Mount Hebron); Kate Nicholson and Jocelyn Papciak (Atholton); Erica Suter and Erika Theisen (River Hill); and Meghan Braun (Glenelg).

Columbia resident Chris Lengauer, assistant women's coach at Johns Hopkins, coached the team, which competed in 12 Super Y games this summer. Super Y teams consist of players considered to be Division I and, possibly, national team candidates.

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