A public-private partnership shines at Howard Community College

Howard At Play

Recreation and local sports in Howard County

April 13, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

NEW GOALS have yet to arrive and some touch-up grading and turf work remains to be done, but Howard Community College in Columbia has what is obviously a quality upgrade to its outdoor sports facilities open for business.

What an improvement!

To which must be added: What a difference, thanks in large part to a six-figure, public-private partnership worked out two years ago by the college and the Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County.

Saturday was opening day for three new, full-size soccer fields and a refurbished fourth one on the Hickory Ridge village side of the college, although the formal opening has been scheduled for April 22.

At midday Saturday, that public-private deal, in which SAC-HC negotiated exclusive usage rights unless college teams needed the fields in exchange for paying to rebuild them, was readily apparent.

The college's men's lacrosse team was playing Nassau (N.Y.) Community College on one field with about 200 spectators, and on two other fields, an under-16 boys team and an under-18 girls team representing SAC-HC were playing. Nearby, workers applied the final covering of pelletized, old tires painted red to an NCAA-standard, 400-meter track.

The track, alone, is stunning, such a change from the ancient, ill-maintained cinder surface that had been there since the college opened. Yes, cinders -- so outmoded, the college's usually successful track team has been using Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills High School tracks for training and meets.

"It's good enough now," said Steve Musselman, last year's national junior college track Coach of the Year who also manages the college's athletics and fitness center, "that we actually could host nationals, if it came to that."

Plans call in another budget year for possibly adding lights to that centerpiece soccer and lacrosse field surrounded by the track, as well as some stands, Musselman said.

Then, after visiting the college, we drove around a bit, and a footnote to SAC-HC's building binge became evident.

The soccer club, which with its some 6,000 players is the 500-pound canary of amateur sports groups in Howard County, had 11 games in progress during early afternoon on new fields it owns -- at Covenant Park off Centennial Lane -- or can get exclusively, at the college. Dozens more games were played at both venues during the weekend.

The significance is not inconsiderable, although it is, apparently hard to quantify. But one obvious thing it meant was that public school fields and county parks fields that two springs ago SAC-HC would have had booked solid were available for other clubs, or to rest.

"It's been great for us," said Chuck Parvis, who as the school system's community services director books all of those fields for sports groups. "It's hard to put the exact difference into numbers, but [SAC-HC's moving into its own facilities] has had a nice impact on what we can do now. We've been able to accommodate other clubs, especially the lacrosse program, better than we have in the past."

SAC-HC is still using a number of school fields, especially for its younger age groups.

David Procida, SAC-HC president, acknowledged that the club has dropped all of the bookings it once claimed for rec and parks fields. The reason is obvious: rec and parks charges for field use, and the school system does not.

There is another footnote, too, for this new HCC complex -- or maybe it is just a sign of the future. Plowed under in all the new construction and regrading were the college's baseball and softball diamonds. The college has no teams, although Musselman said plans call for diamonds to be added in the future.

That must hurt Diane Schumacher, the college's athletic director, who was traveling and could not be reached for this column. Schumacher, you see, is a true fast-pitch softball great. She is in every hall of fame for the sport.

MORE SOCCER: Maybe that cliche about every cloud having a silver lining is true. Just ask Columbia soccer entrepreneur Louis Waxler, who founded the annual KICKS Against Breast Cancer fund-raiser nine years ago and watched this year's first combined effort with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults get washed out March 30.

Remember? It rained so hard that Saturday morning, all afternoon college games and a college double-header that evening featuring Maryland's teams and North Carolina's dominant college squad were canceled.

"We had no choice, just considering the safety of the players," said Waxler. Even SAC-HC's three synthetic turf fields became unplayable. (Although they were used the next day.)

But about 2 p.m., the Carolina women's bus pulled in to learn that, after a five-hour trip, the team wouldn't be playing.

"Anson Dorrance [the storied Carolina coach] said not for us to worry, that he would try to do something to make it up this fall, before the ACC season begins. He said he would look into getting other ACC teams to join Carolina in their own KICKS Against Breast Cancer tournament."

By the way, rain or not, the fund-raiser generated about $35,000, Waxler said -- about normal. Most of the money raised is generated by players on competing college teams.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.

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