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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FX CO park board weighs rules to limit 'walk-ons' on county fields

Mason District Park
New rules under consideration by the Fairfax County Park Authority Board would severely curtail the use of parks for casual, pick-up games of soccer and other sports.

Under current policy, if a field is not in use by a group that reserved it in advance, a “walk-on” group, with up to 40 participants (including spectators), can use it. The proposed rule would cut that number in half.

All county parks would be affected, including Mason District Park, Annandale Community Park, and Roundtree Park in the Annandale area.
The park board will vote at its next meeting, June 8, whether to hold another public hearing on the proposed reduction on July 13.
The Fairfax County Athletic Council, an advisory group appointed by the Board of Supervisors, initially urged the board reduce the number of walk-ons to 10. The Park Authority Board determined that would be too restrictive, so the current proposal on the table would set a limit of 20 walk-ons.

Athletic teams had complained that walk-on groups fail to maintain the fields properly and sometimes refuse to vacate a field when a team with a registered league that had reserved the field shows up.

Marie Reinsdorf, an at-large member of the Park Authority Board who lives in the Mason District, opposes the rule change, calling it unfair to people who want to play sports but don’t have the wherewithal to join a league or establish one.

“I don’t think people out there understand the impact” of the proposed walk-on limit, she says. It will rule out spontaneous play. “You will not be able to play a game of soccer unless you sign up with a league or form your own registered league.”

Among those affected by the proposed change are people who can only play soccer or other sports when they find the time in a busy work schedule with irregular hours—and can’t commit to regularly scheduled games. There seems to be an undercurrent of discrimination at work here with the aim of keeping Hispanic soccer players off county fields.

The process for registering as an official league is cumbersome and bureaucratic. The Park Authority owns the fields and sets policy for their use, and the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) allocates fields and times to registered leagues.

County rules require leagues to collect a registration fee, $5.50, from each player per season. The cost is not a problem, Reinsdorf says. In fact, she thinks that fee could be increased. The leagues also charge players fees for joining a team.

A system of park monitors enforces park regulations. If too many walk-ons show up, a monitor asks them to leave. Refusing to vacate a field is a class 4 misdemeanor.

At a public meeting April 6, co-hosted by the Park Authority and the NCS, most people spoke in favor of reducing the number of walk-ons. Athletic Council Chair Harold Leff said the walk-ons can be “intimidating” and often cause damage to the fields, especially those with synthetic turf. Several representatives of leagues argued that they spend considerable money and time on field maintenance.

The registered teams are very organized and were able to persuade their constituents—players, coaches, and parents—to flood the Park Authority board with e-mails arguing for the number of walk-ons to be reduced to 20, or in some cases 10 or even zero. Many of them also called for strengthened enforcement of the walk-on rules.

Among the arguments presented by the few people who opposed the reduction:
  • “These fields are public property . . . paid for with county taxes from local residents and owned by them. It seems wasteful to have such a wonderful resource available and then restrict its use.”
  • “People coming together to play the sport they love should be applauded. It strengthens our community.”
  • Reducing the number of walk-ons “deters groups of all ages from utilizing a resource that not only makes us healthier, but also allocates time towards a productive activity.”
  • County resources should be available to everyone, “not the special few.”

1 comment:

  1. Certainly the Hispanic community will be impacted, at least in Annandale. You have to remember that youth clubs and adult leagues have long been partners with the Park Authority in maintaining the fields, bringing money and labor to the plate. Look at the Fairfax Women's Soccer Association and their long relationship and $20,000 annual contribution in time, resources and money to the upkeep of Pine Ridge Park. Look at the ABGC, BRYC, SYC, and other clubs that have partnered with county to fund the construction of turf fields. Since when is it discriminatory to ask that folks that use the facilities contribute to their upkeep? There is little to no accountability for not following the established rules for using a facility when it is unknown who is using it. Folks treat respect things much more when they have a little skin in the game. Some would say that bringing people out of the shadows and into the greater community at large is a good thing, that it builds community and helps integrate folks into the mainstream society.