|Ossian Hall Park|
If the rule change passes, people who like to play pick-up soccer games and can’t join regular leagues would find themselves virtually shut out of county fields. And that’s not fair, when our country parks are supposed to be available to the public.
“Everybody should be allowed to play, especially kids. It’s not right to tell our kids they can’t play,” says Mario Escobar, who likes to play soccer on the synthetic turf field at the recently renovated Ossian Hall Park in Annandale.
A self-employed home remodeler, Escobar says it is difficult to fit regularly scheduled games into his schedule. “We’ve got this park I can walk to, and I can’t play here,” he says.
The athletic leagues are well organized and have been pushing the park board to limit the number of walk-ons to 40 or even zero. They have argued that the more restrictive rules are needed because walk-on soccer players have damaged fields and sometimes refuse to vacate a field when a team with a registered league shows up.
Casual users, like Escobar, are obviously less organized and less able to get the word out about their concerns. Many, in fact, aren’t aware that their ability to use county fields might soon be significantly restricted.
At-large Park Board member Marie Reinsdorf believes “we have to provide access to everyone.” She has suggested potential compromises, such as setting aside some fields for walk-on use or charging a reasonable fee for walk-ons. Fees would address the accountability issues and help pay for field maintenance, she says. During the last Park Authority Board meeting, Reinsdorf was the only one who voted against the motion to bring up the issue at a public hearing.
Restricting the fields hurts lower-income people the most. Many don’t have the resources to join organized leagues and often don’t know in advance when they might have to work, so it’s hard for them to play in a league with regularly scheduled games. And without opportunities for sports, young people will be more likely to devote their leisure time to less healthy pursuits.
The Park Authority hearing takes place Wednesday, July 13, 7:30 p.m., in Room 941 of the Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax. It will address an amendment to revise section 1.16-1 (athletic field use) in the existing park regulations. Background information on the issue can be viewed online.
If you want to speak at the hearing, contact the Fairfax County Park Authority Public Information Office, 703/324-8662.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) will also hold a public hearing on this amendment on Thursday, July 21, 7:30 p.m., at 5400 Ox Road in Fairfax Station. If you want to speak at this hearing, contact NVRPA, 703/359-4613.
Existing NVRPA policy requires written permission for “use of an athletic field that results in a gathering of 40 or more participants, including spectators.” Some fields are restricted to youth soccer, some require permits, and others are open to the public.