The Field Squeeze
By David Repka, 10/30/06
Over a year ago, I wrote in the DC Stoddert Soccer Newsletter about our field “crisis” in the District of Columbia. I described the poor conditions of many of the fields that we use, and the overall shortage of supply relative to the current demand. I also wrote about our efforts to locate additional fields for both Recreational and Travel soccer use.
So, many months on, a fair question is: How are we doing? Unfortunately, the short answer is, not very well — though not for lack of effort on the part of the volunteers of this non-profit organization.
First, we can claim one success. We now have a multi-year contract for a sizeable number of game slots for Travel soccer on Sundays at the premier fields of the Maryland SoccerPlex. Obviously, this raises costs for our Travel program families, and requires a great deal of driving to “home” games. However, the high quality of these fields vastly improves the game and allows players to demonstrate soccer skills that they have worked so hard to develop. Quality fields are important to a quality Travel program. This step has also taken a great deal of pressure off of the very few full-sized fields that we have access to in the District, freeing those fields for use in our Recreational program.
We also have a near success. We are continuing negotiations on a multi-party agreement to install an all-weather field conveniently located in Northwest DC. Under the plan DC Stoddert would have substantial weekend use for both Recreational and Travel games. We have also established a formal “field fund” to help pay our share of the project — if we can only now “finish,” to use soccer terminology.
However, in other respects we continue to be frustrated; indeed, very frustrated. The life’s blood of our program is the fields that we use under permits from the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The permitting process this fall was very slow, greatly complicating our planning. In addition, several fields remain “off-line” (Palisades and Shepard, to name two) and long-term plans remain unclear. We also continue to battle for hours on many fields, squeezed by neighbors who apparently do not want athletic fields to be used for athletic activities. This narrow-minded viewpoint, in my opinion, undervalues children and exercise — often to the sole benefit of dogs. At a time when our culture faces serious issues of childhood obesity, the balance seems skewed.
We have also explored partnerships and opportunities with public and private schools. So far, the results have been poor. For example, we would very much like to participate in a coalition to improve the Alice Deal Junior High School field as part of the planned school renovation. However, we need support at the school and in the school community for this to happen. And we need financial backing from the city. With the independent schools, the picture is a bit different. At schools where good fields already exist, we (and the schools) are often frustrated by use restrictions imposed by the neighbors and the ANC system that preclude weekend activities. Again, the field squeeze is created because our programs seem to be under-valued and under-represented. To me it seems very odd indeed that in the District of Columbia we need to go 35 miles away, to Germantown, Md., to find fields — because local school fields are not available to us.
DC Stoddert Soccer has almost 4,600 players in Recreational and Travel soccer. It is the biggest program of its type in the city. The program receives no public funding. So why do we seem to get so little respect? Why do our players receive so little support from the government, the schools, and other civic leaders with the ability to advocate for fields? To a large degree, I believe, the difficulties we face are not widely or sufficiently communicated. That is a condition I hope to change, with the help of all of our commissioners, coaches, managers, and parents.
To reprise something I wrote a year ago, I encourage all parents connected to local schools to advocate on behalf of DC Stoddert and our programs. The fact is, our players go on to supply many of the players for these schools’ teams.
- We also need help from the city and DPR, to provide the infrastructure needed to support youth athletic programs in the District.
- We need our participants who are neighbors of the parks to advocate for the upkeep and availability of the fields.
- And, in this election season, I urge you all to talk to your ANC or your city council candidate, to call their attention to the dire condition of our fields and to demonstrate the size and strength of our soccer community. The small cadre of volunteers of DC Stoddert Soccer cannot address this issue alone.